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Reviews

The Retreat
(2020)

Sasquatch
You know, even in today's quarantine situation, no part of me ever wants to go to a cabin with my friends for an isolated vacation. I've seen too many movies where a bunch of guy pals go up north and end up all dead or worse.

The Retreat is the next one that reminds me that I should stay right where I am, in my wonderful movie room basement, cataloging my Mexican VHS horror favorites and wondering whether or not I should even go upstairs.

Gus and Adam weren't as smart. They went up to the Adirondack High Peaks of Upstate New York and ended up running into a monster. But now, Gus finds himself all by himself, going crazy and convinced that he's being hunted by the Wendigo.

Written and directed by Bruce Wemple, whose Monstrous was about a woman discovering that a trip to - you guessed it - the Adirondack High Peaks of Upstate New York wasn't such a good idea because one of her friends is possessed by a beast much like Bigfoot. Grant Schumacher, who plays Gus in this movie, was also in that as Jamie, and Dylan Grum, who is Adam here, played Squatch in Monstrous.

Here's some further advice: if you are going backpacking in the woods, do not take any hallucinogenic drugs. Have we learned nothing from the slasher films of our youth?

The crazy thing is that there may be more than one Wendigo out here in the woods. And beyond just killing people, they like to make them go crazy first. They are also usually cannibals that have tasted the flesh of their fellow man in the forest, if I know my Native American lore (or just remember when Wolverine fought one).

The Retreat is available on demand and on DVD - all hail physical media, look for this at a WalMart near you! - from Uncork'd Entertainment, who were nice enough to send us a review copy.

My Summer as a Goth
(2018)

Fun!
I totally did not expect to enjoy this movie at all and came away totally enjoying it. It's the first film written and directed by Tara Johnson-Medinger, who definitely gets the tone and voice right for this coming of age film.

After the sudden death of her father, Joey Javitts (Natalie Shershow) goes to stay with her grandparents for the summer while her famous author mother goes on a book tour. While there, she meets the goth neighbor Victor (Jack Levis) and decides to change everything.

Oh to be sixteen again and Manic Panic-dying your scalp for the first time. My Summer As a Goth may not ring true for those deeply invested in the subculture, but for those of us on the outskirts or outside, it presents a charming tale of a young girl seeking to find herself. The supporting cast is really fun and I loved the way the movie chose to show text messages as animation.

It starts streaming on demand on November 11. Check it out. I think you'll end up liking it too. Take it from someone who went to Darkwave nights every Sunday and felt out of place because he can't dance and didn't wear makeup. It gets the alienation right.

Tales from the Campfire 3
(2020)

Plenty of fun
The third part of Dark Infinity's Tales for the Campfire trilogy will delight anyone who liked 1983's Scary Tales or 1997's Campfire Tales or, well, any horror anthology. A quick burst of gory junk food, this would have fit in perfectly on the shelves of my hometown's mom and pop video stores, whether that was Prime Time Video or Hollywood Video (not the chain).

Even the cover is reminiscent of one of those multi-time rentals of the lamented past, Return of the Living Dead 3.

As the Campfire Gang - Shawn, Ronnie, Ken, Rebecah and Amber - gathers around the campfire one more time to tell several different stories.

"We One" is definitely a tribute to perhaps the most effective anthology horror story ever, "Amelia" from Trilogy of Terror. "Cole Canyon Creeps" is all about the worst of all ideas, hitchhiking. "The Prisoner" concerns a mental patient menacing an agoraphobic woman on Halloween night*, which is perfect slasher fodder. It's followed by another slasher story, "The Bitter Half**" and then finally, a tale about "The Gateway" to Hell.

This movie features plenty of locations that you'll recognize from Child's Play 2, Halloween III, House, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight.

This is the first of these anthologies that I've watched and it moved quickly. So quickly, in fact, that it was over before I knew it. It totally doesn't overstay its welcome!

*There are plenty of clips of Night of the Living Dead mixed into the story.

**Mel Novak plays a character named Dr. Challis, in case you didn't know just how obsessed with 80's horror this movie is.

Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage
(2014)

Sinbad sails again
Actor/director Shahin (Sean) Solimon is the first Persian-American actor to play Sinbad The Sailor in an American made film, which would be this movie, which now has director's cut and expanded stop-motion VFX and new scenes.

This looks like old claymation mixed with modern desktop special effects, as well as narration by Patrick Stewart, which had to have cost something, you'd think.

How did they get to the fifth voyage of Sinbad? They're counting The 7th Voyage of Sinbad as step one (which would make this the eleventh voyage, right?) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and even Enzo G. Castellari and Luigi Cozzi's Lou Ferrigno-starring Sinbad of the Seven Seas as previous chapters.

Becca didn't grow up watching these movies, so she's not going to like a Sinbad movie as much as me, even if it features the hero battling monsters, vampires and Satan himself.

Do you know how many streaming movies I've watched lately? Becca asked me to shut it off and I told her it only had two minutes left. She angrily grabbed the remote and said, "It says it has more than ten minutes left!" I replied, "Watch. The credits are going to be about ten minutes long or more to pad this all out."

So yeah. This is obviously Solimon's pet project, so who am I to deny him the opportunity to learn how to use After Effects and try to make something that shoots for Harryhausen and ends up somewhere around the clay creatures in Night Train to Terror?

The Secret: Dare to Dream
(2020)

Shh!
I had a friend buy me a copy of The Secret, the Rhonda Byrne self-help book. It was well-intentioned, but it felt like the New Thought of the past and a sanitized version of Chaos Magic that didn't work quite as well. But hey - everyone needs something to help them get by, and like I said, the thought was in the right place.

Now, the book has inspired a film which I can only imagine will be the first of many.

Director Andy Tennant knows romcoms. After all, he was behind It Takes Two, Fools Rush In, Ever After and Sweet Home Alabama, the kind of movies that the lady in your life wants to put on any time they show up on a Sunday afternoon (and you'd be the jerk wanting to watch The Replacements again).

Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes) is the kind of hardscrabble, yet gorgeous, widow that these movies are all about. She's raising three kids on her own but a storm blows into town and she has to hire Bray Johnson (Josh Lucas, who was in the aforementioned Sweet Home Alabama) to help fix things up, which includes her life and her family. Bray is pretty much The Secret in human form, because he's a positive thinker, as well as someone that has a mysterious past that could ruin everything.

Don't you just hate the third part of the hero's journey?

If you're already in for the 90's stars in this, Jerry O'Connell shows up as well to seal the deal.

There was another movie version of the book in 2006, but that one didn't have romance, a storm or Katie Holmes trying to raise kids. The universe talked to me and told me not to watch it. However, the universe did tell me to watch this, as we got a screener in the mail and it felt like I was watching too many slashers and perhaps it was time to watch a family-friendly movie about the power of positivity.

Now, for you moment of meta, sponsored by the IMDB trivia page for this movie: Josh Lucas played Mitch McDeere in the television adaptation of The Firm, a role originated by Holmes' ex-husband Tom Cruise.

Now, back to The Secret. I feel as if my movie writing is now a success, as I have been able to convince movie studios to send me films to get my "expert" opinion. Most of my opinion is based on how much I love movies where people are menaced by gardening implements. That said, when this crossed my plate, I knew that I had finally achieved something worthwhile.

Then my wife said, "Why do you want to watch this movie?"

So I explained The Secret*somehow combines the Protestant teachings of Norman Vincent Peale with the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky to create a theory that you can reprogram reality without needing to make sigils or set things on fire or masturbate. Then she stared at me even longer, wondered why she married me and went out to smoke a cigarette.

*The movie does this with pizza magically arriving when the children wish it in existence. Maybe I'm being too hard on this book, because if I can conjure pepperoni and extra cheese slices into being, I might have to get more serious about this.

Grant
(2020)

Great!
Executive produced by Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio, this film went perfectly with the election process this year, as it taught me about the 18th President of the United States, a man who overcame a troubled past and alcoholism to save our nation.

I love how this blends a shot movie, commentary by several experts and real images of the past to form the full picture of someone who I had only glanced at during history class.

Justin Salinger plays Grant and it's through him we see the human side of the historical icon. I'd often heard him painted as an alcoholic whose time as President was marred by corruption, which is only part of the real story, which this six-hour mini-series (originally airing on History) sets right.

Having this all on one DVD set is such a great addition to my library. History continually finds ways to make what was once dry into exciting shows that actually teach me new things. If you'd like to learn more about what true leaders were once like, I recommend you pick up this new release from Lionsgate.

Amityville Island
(2020)

More Amityville!
I love the guys at Wild Eye. After reading our Letterboxd list of Amityville movies*, I got an email from them that said, "Have you seen Amityville Island yet?"

Look, when a movie has the tagline "For God's sake, get out of the water!" you know I'm probably going to have to watch it. Throw in the fact that it was directed by Mark Polonia (along with Paul Alan Steele) and I knew I was going to be spinning this, probably while my wife was asleep so that she didn't cast a gaze at me that said, "You really will watch anything if Amityville is in the title."

Several girls are brought to a small island where they are subjected to genetic experiments that involve both humans and animals. Right away, we have a women in prison, a science gone wild story and a government conspiracy flick all at the same time, but to complete this buffet, we learn that one of the girls killed people inside the house on 112 Ocean Avenue.

Perhaps the finest movie to ever be made for $30,000 in Wellsboro, PA, Amityville Shark succeeds just because it exists. It's packed with a CGI shark, CGI blood, stock footage, a possessed woman blasting a dude through his PC and lines like, "She's from Amityville, what are you gonna do?" and "High quality dirtbags are getting harder and harder to find."

Oh yeah - there's also a zombie that shows up before the end of this movie.

Of course there is.

You know, if we put low budget filmmakers in charge of solving COVID-19, I bet their ingenuity and ability to work with no money would solve it in no time. Or maybe we'd have female prisoners fighting in basements while random dudes in officers yell into their landlines. Either way, this time, we can all win.

I hope Mark Polonia reads this and hears my request: Please make a movie where the apes from Empire of the Apes ride sharks.

*Polonia also made Amityville Exorcism and is due to make Shark Encounters of the Third Kind this year.

The Crater Lake Monster
(1977)

Great monster in a. bad movie
Man, I keep getting sucked into the world of Crown International Pictures, don't I? Well, that's also Mill Creek's fault, as so many of their box sets are filled with the output of this studio.

That brings us to Susanville, CA, known as Prison Town, USA and the home of Ken Shamrock, and also the Crater Lake, which is also where the Crater Lake Monster lives. If you're thinking, "Will this be a Bigfoot film?" No, my friend. This one is all about a giant Plesiosaurus, just like Loch Ness.

Speaking of obsessions, director William R. Stromberg has one other credit to his name: he did the stop motion animation for Night Train to Terror. He's working from a script by Richard Cardella, who also stars in this as Sheriff Steve Hanson, the man who has to protect his town from the sea monster.

The main issue with this film is the problem that many a giant monster movie faces. We don't really care about the townspeople and the robberies that the sheriff is uncovering. Nor do we care about the forced humor from the stereotypical backwoods people of the small town.

No. Not at all.

We just want to see a dinosaur eat people.

According to Cardella, Crown International took over production and did very little of it. He claims that's why the day for night shots just are day and also why there are so many plot holes. I really don't think anything would improve this script, because you can throw money at feces and it remains feces.

The poster for this movie promises a T. Rex and delivers a completely different dinosaur. Five-year-old me would be incensed.

But you know, once that rubbery stop motion monster - born when a meteor blasted into the lake and woke up a sleeping dinosaur egg - shows up, I forget all the padding, all the cornball humor, all the boredom and just enjoy that beast biting down on some humanity.

Playhouse
(2020)

Haunted manors
Jack Travis (William Holstead) is a horror writer working on his new play in an ancient castle that is starting to possess his teenage daughter Bee (Grace Courtney). You know how those old manors go - all the supernatural beings within the walls looking to ruin lives.

Written, produced and directed by Toby and Fionn Watts, this tells the tale of a young man who was walled inside said castle that has been able to kill from beyond. I've said it before, I'll say it again, if you have writer's block, do not go to a haunted castle, hotel or house in the hopes that it will lead to you writing the great American novel.

This movie switches main characters at some point, so don't get used to the hero, the heroine or even the antagonist. That said, it sure looks pretty and has plenty of gothic atmosphere. So once you move from father and son to Jenny (Helen Mackay) and Callum (James Rottger), just try to stay with it.

Survival Skills
(2020)

Blown away
Talk about being knocked for a loop. Who knew that the movie that I think had the biggest impact on me in 2020 would be a film that for all intents and purposes looks like a training film from the 1980's?

Survival Skills begins as an unearthed police educational film narrated by Stacy Keach and turns into something much different, a film that plays with the very media that it has been created within, turning the characterless characters of these videos - I'm a huge fan of stuff like Grill Skill and McC: Inside and Outside Custodial Duties - and discover what their real lives were like, if they ever had them. Who are the side characters in their lives and what is life like for them? And what happens in the cheery reality of these unliving beings when real life rudely intrudes?

Jim Williams (Vayu O'Donnell) is someone you may know, a cop who is just starting on the job, who must confront the harsh realities that the police academy never prepared him for.

In the wake of calls to defund the police and a look at the way the men and women wearing the badge must protect and serve a public that has come to hate and fear them, this movie takes a stark look at the training and videos that prepared them, including Dave Grossman and his killology philosophy, which teaches "officers to be less hesitant to use lethal force, urge them to be willing to do it more quickly and teach them how to adopt the mentality of a warrior," according to the Washington Post.

But what happens when a cop like Jim just wants to help a victim of abuse that can't seem to break from the cycle? Surely society has ways to help people in that situation. You'd think so. But this film shows that the truth is quite darker.

Jim also grows darker in this story, going from the by the book example from every one of those fake educational videos into a haunted soul who has turned to his original shell of a personality to hide from the anguish that being a real person involves. Every positive step he's tried to make is a failure; people won't or can't help the abused woman who he just wants to save.

Even the film stock itself has meaning here. Unlike so many movies that believe being 80's influenced means just having vague allusions to John Carpenter-esque synth background music and bad takes on fashion, this film uses the tracking and hum and hiss of videotape to pile on the slowing growing current of hopelessness. Keach shines brightly as the narrator, going from telling the story to commanding parts of it, even able to snap his fingers and take us from his reality to the reality of Jim, changing the look from drabness to high def and back again. And unlike so many of the faux 80's films that litter the landscape, this one gets one thing right: the spectre of Reagan hung heavy over everything.

There's also a moment of Satanic Panic in here that I don't want to ruin, but only want to say that it does the best job I've seen a film do in translating the strangeness of that era, a time when police would come to your school or church to warn you of the dangers of demons hiding throughout popular culture.

Quinn Armstrong, who wrote and directed this, has made a movie that does exactly what great films should: I'm still thinking about this movie hours after watching it, wondering how the characters have moved on, as if they were real people. It's an astounding film that tells a story perfect for our time and has my highest recommendation.

Assassin
(1986)

Canadian Terminator
Henry Stanton (Robert Conrad, try to knock a battery off his shoulder ) is a retired agent from an intelligence agency not to be named that is brought back in when a top-secret robot named Robert Golem (Richard Young, the man who gave Indiana Jones his fedora) begins killing government officials. He'll have help from an old flame named Mary (Karen Austin, Case of the Hillside Stranglers, Fantasies) and he'll need it, because Golem is unstoppable.

With a tagline like "Exterminate with extreme prejudice," you know that this movie is totally remaking Terminator. It originally aired on CBS on March 19, 1986, two full years after Cameron's Outer Limits pastiche played theaters*.

This was written and directed by Sandor Stern, who wrote the original The Amityville Horror and wrote and directed Amityville Horror: The Evil Escapes and one of my favorite blasts of sheer Canadian craziness, Pin.

It's a TV version of a blockbuster, so there's not much here, but there is a moment where the villain uses an iron to close up his bullet holes before making sweet, sweet love to a woman he meets in the hotel. But hey, if you grew up on 70's TV and thought Robert Conrad was the toughest man alive - he used to get enraged at teammates on Battle of the Network Stars who didn't go all out - then you might like this.

*I say this because that movie owes plenty to Harlan Ellison. As the story goes, Harlan saw the movie, called Orion Pictures up about the theft and was dismissed by them. But Ellison knew screenwriter and producer Tracy Torme, who had told Ellison before the movie even came out that he had visited the set of the film and when he asked where he got the idea, Cameron said, "Oh, I ripped off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories." Cameron also told the same thing to Starlog, but the magazine edited out the comments after a call from producer Gale Anne Hurd. As for Cameron, he'd later say, "Harlan Ellison is a parasite who can kiss my ass." I'm shocked that he didn't get sued again by the man who won a lawsuit against Marvel once that gave him one copy of everything they published; he would write them nearly every month asking why he hadn't received the most minute of products.

Play Misty for Me
(1971)

Great!
Before she was Lucille Bluth, Jessica Walter scared the hell out of the men of 1971 with her role as Evelyn Draper, the caller who continually asks KRML-FM* DJ Dave Garver (Clint Eastwood, making his directorial debut) to "play "Misty" for me."

What started as a simple evening of sex - well, for Dave at least - has turned obsessive and he thinks he cuts Evelyn loose. She responds by slasher her wrists, then destroying his house and even stabbing his housekeeper (I didn't realize DJs on 500 watt stations made enough to have servants).

While she's in prison, Dave gets back with his ex-girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills**) and deals with calls and letter from Evelyn that concern Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee." And oh yeah - she proves how cured she is by getting in bed with him and trying to stab him with a gigantic butcher knife.

Of course, she ends up taking his Tobie hostage and Dave has to punch her through a window, which is how I assume folks dealt with spurned women in 1971.

While Eastwood was sweating out his first-time behind the camera, he had help from his buddy Don Siegel (the director of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers), who also plays a bartender, as well as Siegel's usual team of cinematographer Bruce Surtees, editor Carl Pingitore and composer Dee Barton. It worked out - Eastwood came out $50,000 under budget and four days ahead of schedule.

Kino Lorber has just re-released this on blu ray, with some great extras to go with the new 2K transfer. There's commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, an interview with Donna Mills, a video essay with film historian Howard S. Berger, a documentary on the film, a featurette about Siegel and Eastwood, and even the Trailers From Hell segment where Adam Rifkin discusses the film. You can get it here and it's yet another great release from Kino Lorber, who are putting out so much good stuff as of late.

*1410 AM, a real station in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, the same town Eastwood was the mayor from 1986-1988.

Hóllyweird
(2019)

Behind Hollywood
After an accident hurts a film's Latino star, the hunt for his replacement begins. The role of the undercover cop Basco is up for anyone who can get it, which seems to be a two-man race between Steve Fernandez, a struggling actor, and a man who has just thumbed a ride into town named Alejandro Costello, who isn't who he seems to be.

Welcome to Hollyweird, originally called Hóllyweird.



With the tagline "Some people lie to themselves, other people lie to the world. (Alguna gente se miente, otra gente miente al mundo)," this film presents the behind the scenes world of the Latino Hollywood experience. It comes from director Edwin Porres, who co-wrote this with Jaime Marie Porres.

It's interesting because Steve (Douglas Spain, But I'm a Cheerleader) is Latino but doesn't play to the stereotypes that Hollywood has placed upon them, while Alejandro (Michael J. Knowles) - spoiler - isn't Latino at all but may be better at playing the role than someone who has born into it.

Life Returns
(1935)

Yes, a dog comes back to life
Eugene Frenke wrote and directed this film, and his Hollywood career is pretty strange. Born in Russia, he'd direct three more films (Girl in the Case, Two Who Dared and Miss Robin Crusoe), with eighteen years between his last two movies. He also produced Lady in the Iron Mask, The Barbarian and the Geisha and more films, as well as acting as a production assistant on 1971's Johnny Got His Gun.

Following a preview screening of the film, Universal pulled the film from general release and said that it was a "freak picture, not suitable for the regular Universal program." In 1937, Frenke won a lawsuit and got his film back, re-releasing it through Scienart Pictures a year later.

On May 22, 1934 at the University of Southern California, scientist Robert E. Cornish - who appears in the film playing himself - surgically and chemically restored life to a dead dog. Frenke filmed this operation and included it in this film, if you can believe that!

Cornish even provided a note that is in the credits: "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The actual experiment of bringing the dead back to life, which is part of the motion picture "Life Returns" was performed by myself and staff on May 22, 1934 at 11:45 P.M. in Berkeley, California. This part of the picture was originally taken to retain a permanent scientific record of our experiment. Everything shown is absolutely real. The animal was unquestionably and actually dead, and was brought back to life. May I offer my thanks to my assistants, Mario Margutti, William Black, Ralph Celmer and Roderic Kneder, who are shown carrying out their respective parts. Respectfully submitted, Dr. Robert E. Cornish."

Frenke was married to the Russian star Anna Sten, who Samuel Goldwyn hyped as "The Passionate Peasant" and tried to transform into a big star across the movies Nana, We Live Again and The Wedding Night. Her failure was so big that Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" refers to her: "When Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / anything goes."

After this, the auteur wanted to make another film where a drowning man was brought back to life. After being sued by Frenke, one wonders why he'd come back to Universal. But he sure did and they turned him down.

The World Is Full of Secrets
(2018)

Long challenging speeches for these actresses
There have been plenty of movies about girls telling scary stories in the dark. However, this one has a style all its own, as its young actresses stare right at you in long takes of them voicing each frightening story, while Tnarration is provided by the only one of them to survive a horrible night back in 1986.

Written, produced, directed and edited by Graham Swon, each girl's story goes from the mistreatment of Christian women to how witches were hunted and finally to just how simple it is to go mad.

Your enjoyment of this movie is going to depend on how much you can handle the artiness of locking the shot and having twenty minutes of dialogue play as a character stares directly at you with no other action. I found it somewhat brave and an interesting choice, while Becca loudly encouraged me to turn this off and put in something else.

That said, all of the women in the cast - Elena Burger as Becca, Dennise Gregory as Clara, Ayla Guttman as Suzie, Alexa Shae Niziak as Emily and Violet Piper as Mel - are quite good at delivering the lengthy dialogue that this film demands, as well as the subtle emotions that need to be conveyed. It's by no means a perfect film, but one that I couldn't stop watching, even with the cajoling of my wife.

I'm so glad I never went to any parties where I was asked to look into mirrors or participate in seances. My teen years were strange enough without walking the left hand path. Once things start getting fuzzy and you start seeing double images, you've either be drugged or you're about to be part of something occult, right?

It's Just a Game
(2018)

A modern slasher I actually liked
Brianna (Hannah Cohen-Lawlor) is sick of dealing with mean girls and conjures up a cult who takes care of everyone she ever had an issue with, stabbing them right in the throat and even devouring their tongues. Yes, if you've ever been bullied, you may feel some level of catharsis through this one.

This was written and directed by Daniel Emery Taylor, who also made The Hospital, The Hospital 2, Camper Massacre, Paranormalice and Repulse, which is in pre-production.

Once our heroine brings Sister Amelia and Brother Marco (Leah Hudspeth and Alex Zuko) into her world, no one that treated her badly is safe. They are joined by Brother Thaddeus (a cameo by Taylor), Sister Daphne, Skullgirl and the Pigmen, while following the orders of Mother Murder (Cassandra Bryson). This strange family of killers are all pretty interesting and I wish they had another film to expand on each of them further.

This makes great use of its $50,000 budget and lean 70-minute running time. There's plenty of bloody mayhem - indeed, I've never seen two killers aardvark on the dead bodies of the teenagers they just murdered - to go around for even the most jaded of horror fans.

Morons from Outer Space
(1985)

Could be better
Somehow, this movie came from the same man who made Get Carter, Flash Gordon and Black Rainbow, Mike Hodges. Man, what an all over the place resume of films!

Originally called Illegal Aliens, it later became entitled Morons from Outer Space, which led to Mel Brooks changing the name of his movie Planet Moron to Spaceballs*.

This was written by Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith, who created Not the Nine O'Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones. They were never on the same page as Hodges, which is probably why this movie feels so uneven.

Three aliens named Sandra, Desmond and Julian strand another named Bernard (Smith) and head to Earth, where they become instant celebrities with an agent (Jones) getting them all over the media. They offer nothing special yet everyone wants to meet them, while when Bernard comes to Earth, he's seen as a crazy man.

Somehow, this was the only film that Smith and Jones would ever make. So there's that.

You have to love that this Mill Creek set has a British science fiction comedy, a Japanese super hero movie, an American TV movie, a German horror movie, Italian ripoff cinema and so many more genres all packed into one inexpensive box.

*Strangely enough, the aliens play a game called Spaceball in this film.

Lake Michigan Monster
(2018)

So awesome
Arrow has been steadily releasing some modern stuff in addition to their gorgeous rereleases, like The Deeper You Dig and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway.

I love that they put this out, as this is one of the stranger movies I've seen in a while and imagine what that entails. The winner of the Audience Award for Best International Feature at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival, this movie feels like a mix of art film, cartoons, monster movies and old serials, all in black and white with occasional color.

Captain Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, who also wrote and directed) is hunting down the titular beast who killed his father. So he assembles a crew to take it down, including weapons expert Sean Shaughnessy (Erick West, who also ran camera, did makeup and produced), sonar whiz Nedge Pepsi (Beulah Peters, also on camera and producing) and former N.A.V.Y. (Nautical Athletes and Adventure Yunit) officer Dick Flynn (Daniel Long).

Along the way, the Captain screws up at every opportunity, losing his crew and even having to assemble a new one made up of ghosts before meeting the beast that just might be his sister. But you know, if you're Ahab and you finally found your white whale, would you stop? And why do Milwaukee liquor stores close at 9 PM anyway?

You have to love a movie that brags that it's been "banned in four lakes" and ends with the kind of eye damage that would make Fulci weep.

The new Arrow Video release - this is also playing on their on demand channel - comes with a sober and drink cast and crew audio commentary, as well as another option to hear critics talk about the film while you watch it. There are also interviews, behind the scenes on the effects and even the first season and pilot episode of L.I.P.S., Tews and Mike Cheslik's sci-fi comedy web series.

You can get this from Arrow and I totally recommend it. It just works perfectly.

Bakuretsu toshi
(1982)

Post-apoc punk wild crazy and weird
I don't know what was in the water, because the frenzy of 1979's Mad Max inspired imitators all over the world, from the Italian westerns with cars to the Filipino tricycle driving blasts of strangeness and, yes, this Japanese punk rock epic. This is one of the most frenetic and just plain loud movies I've ever seen, which made me fall in love with it right from the very first frame.

Whether its characters are rocking the stage, partying, fighting, getting wasted, hunting down a killer or battling any authority figure they can find, this is a film of noise, fury and high energy. It unites bikers, workers and punk as one to fight the Yakuza, which leads to the Battle Police shutting everything down.

Burst City has a soundtrack from all three of the major punk cities in Japan. The Stalin was from Tokyo, Machizo Machida was from Kansai, and The Roosters and the Rockers were from Kyushu. The cast and crew bonded by living on the post-apocalyptic set when they weren't shooting, like some end of the world squatters.

Shot on filthy 16 mm film, this movie stops and starts, changes speeds and amplifies the strangeness throughout. Director Gakuryu Ishii is often cited as being a major influence on Japan's cyberpunk culture with movies like Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle and Electric Dragon 80.000 V, as well as music videos for The Roosters and Einstürzende Neubauten.

If you look closely, you can spot Japanese pro wrestling heel king Umanosuke Ueda, a bleach blonde heel who also shows up on Takeshi's Castle. He's one of the yakuza henchmen. If you're a fan of New Japan Pro Wrestling's Evil, you are watching the modern version of his character, which also inspired Mr. Gannosuke, Tatsutoshi Goto and Toru Yano.

This is 115 minutes of punk bands screaming*, motorcycles, fistfights, cops getting shotgun blasted and astounding fashion choices. It's non-stop imagery and sound. In my dreams of punk rock 1982 Tokyo, I imagine that everyone dressed and acted exactly like this film, racing dekotora trucks and chugging sake right out of the microwavable containers when they aren't plugging holes in their amps so they get even more distortion out of them.

This is one weird trip that you should totally take. Grab a helmet or something to restrain yourself, because this movie feels like it could give you whiplash.

*Becca: "Is this movie just an hour of Japanese people screaming?"

Spell
(2020)

Nothing new, but told well enough
While piloting his family to his father's funeral in rural Appalachia, Marquis (Omari Hardwick, Sorry to Bother You) flies through an electrical storm and crashes, waking up alone and injured, a captive in the attic of Ms. Eloise (Loretta Devine, who was one of the original actresses in the stage presentation of Dreamgirls). She claims that for him to be whole again, she must use the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure created from human blood and skin.

Trapped in an attic with no idea where his family is, Marquis must escape his past and his future at the very same time.

Spell was written by Kurt Wimmer, who wrote and directed one of my favorite odd 2000's action films, Equilibrium, as well as its kind of, sort of follow-up Ultraviolet. He also wrote Salt, Sphere and the remakes of The Thomas Crown Affair, Total Recall and Point Break. He also directed a new Children of the Corn, which came out on October 23 of this year.

It was directed by Mark Tonderai, who made House at the End of the Street and has worked on plenty of streaming shows like Castle Rock, Locke and Key and Gotham.

This film looks nice, with well-thought-out dream sequences and colorful hues. I just wish it had something new to say. It feels like a backwoods - yet black-acted - version of the post-Deliverance films that brought the supernatural to the table like Rituals while the allusions to Misery simply can't be glossed over.

That said, between this and Antebellum, you can really tell that modern black horror suffers without someone like Jordan Peele at the helm. It's an alright film, but like I stated above, I wish it had something more to say.

However, Devine is great in her role and really brings it. She's the best thing in this.

Silent Running
(1972)

A somewhat forgotten film
Visual effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull (The Andromeda Strain, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, The Tree of Life, The Towering Inferno) finally got the chance to direct with this movie and sadly, he didn't get to capitalize on it

Made for one million dollars, one-tenth the budget of Kubrick's classic, this movie was helped by all the special effects know-how of Trumbull, who was not originally going to direct it. Lead actor Bruce Dern stated that Trumbull's creative vision was equal to Alfred Hitchcock, who he had also worked with. And that made the director hot for the briefest of times, as it flopped at the box office.

Trumbull joked "It was just a great experience for me as a filmmaker, but I didn't know that I was part of an experiment by Universal Studios...to see if it was possible to have a movie survive on word of mouth alone without an advertising campaign.*"

At some point in the future, all that is left of Earth's ecosystem is floating in space. The crew is ordered to destroy the greenery by the faceless bureaucrats that run what is left of the world and they comply, all save Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern, The 'Burbs, Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte, Coming Home), who has taken three service robots and gone into "silent running" around the rings of Saturn, keeping himself as sane as he can and what is left of Earth's once lush forests blooming.

Written by Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino (the two would go on to write The Deer Hunter and Cimino would spectacularly self-destruct with Heaven's Gate) and Steven Bochco (who would go on to create L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues and more), this is a quiet tale of a man whose only companions are the industrial droids he renames Huey, Dewey and Louie**.

The effects in this movie are obviously the draw. The ship Valley Forge was reused on the show Battlestar Galactica years later and still held up as a great looking spaceship, even post-Star Wars. And the haunting soundtrack was by Peter Schickele, better known for doing classical music parodies under the name of P.D.Q. Bach.

Without this movie, we'd have no Mystery Science Theater 3000, as the idea of a man lost in space with only robots to talk to resonated with creator Joel Hodgson. And speaking of inspiration, Trumbull was asked by George Lucas to work on this movie, but passed. Lucas asked if he could use a droid in his film inspired by the robots in Silent Running and Trumbull agreed. Six years later, when 20th Century-Fox sued Universal, claiming that Battlestar Galactica was a ripoff of Star Wars, Universal countersued with the theory that Star Wars ripped off Silent Running.

This was a film I searched for most my childhood, as we couldn't just grab a DVD or stream films back then. I always saw photos of it in Starlog and wondered what the robots would look like when they moved.

*Actually, this really was part of a Universal Studios experiment to try and recreate Easy Rider by giving a million dollars or less to young filmmakers and letting them have final cut. The other films are Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand, Hopper's The Last Movie, Forman's Taking Off and Lucas' American Graffiti.

*The three drones were played by four bilateral amputees (Mark Person as Dewey, Cheryl Sparks and Steven Brown (he's also in the biker mover J.C.) as Huey and Larry Whisenhunt as Louie). That means they are either missing both arms or both legs. This was inspired by sideshow performer Johnny Eck.

Cup of Cheer
(2020)

Xmas fun
Whether you love or hate holiday movies, Cup of Cheer is for you. It's the story of big city writer Mary, who heads back home to Snowy Heights to write an article about the town's world famous Christmas cheer. If this is how every Hallmark movie begins, well, this certainly doesn't end that way.

Directed by Jake Horowitz from a script by Andy Lewis, Mary runs into Chris, the owner of a hot cocoa shop called the Cup of Cheer. Well, not for long, as Chris's ex-boyfriend plans on shutting down the shop on Christmas Eve. But Mary has a plan to rescue the store and the holiday and the town, as often happens in these movies.

Like I said, some people love these kinds of movies, so they'll laugh at all of the jokes. And if they hate this genre, they'll probably find just as much to laugh about. Also, I have no idea what goes into a cup of cheer, despite spending some time searching for recipes. I would guess that after seeing this that it involves hot cocoa. If you have any idea, let me know.

Attack of the Demons
(2019)

Lots of fun!
The year is 1994. This is when a demonic cult who has planned the end of the world will bring their ritual to a music festival in a small Colorado town. Soon, demons will rule the land and three very human people will have to try and stop it.

Sure, you've seen this type of movie before. But have you seen it as a cut paper animation?

Attack of the Demons would be an interesting experiment if its story didn't work, but it actually becomes truly engaging and succeed because of it.

Director Eric Power also made another animated film called Path of Blood. Here he's working with writer Andreas Petersen, who also provides the voice of Jeff, to make a movie that would completely fit into the 1980's direct to VHS era - if it were a live-action movie. Being animated allows it to go wild with its visuals and create a world beyond an everyday budget.

Complacent
(2012)

Ensemble
Two sisters, Myah Sanderson and Beth Wilkensen, struggle with their differences but have settled in to whatever life is going to be, just trying to get through another day of life. Finally, one of them can no longer take it and tries to break out of the rat race, the day to day drudgery, and it sets up a chain reaction that everyone must deal with.

Complacent is a movie that attempts to do what Crash - no, not the one with the automobile crash obsession - and Magnolia did so well. So does it succeed?

This was written and directed by Steven R. Monroe, who usually delivers fare such as It Waits, the 2010 remake of I Spit On Your Grave (as well as the 2013 sequel) and, as we've realized by now, holiday movies, which seems to be the twin genre to scary movies. He's made A Bramble House Christmas, Christmas Connection, Christmas In Homestead, Christmas Tree Lane, Reunited at Christmas and The 12 Disasters of Christmas.

Speaking of horror, leads Celina Vincent and Joey Kern were also in Cabin Fever. You may have also seen her in Not Another Teen Movie and as Maya the Yellow Ranger in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. And oh yeah - big for all horror fans, Adrienne Barbeau is also on hand!

If you love eighties films, this is Kerri Green's (Lucas, The Goonies) first acting role in over a decade. Nineties movies? Elisa Donovan from Clueless and A Night at the Roxbury is in the cast.

Other actors and actresses appearing include Keir O'Donnel (who was in the TV show Project Blue Book, as well as Wedding Crashers, American Sniper and played Ben Schmidt on the Fargo TV series), Michael Worth, Christopher Showerman (who played George of the Jungle in the 2003 direct to video sequel), Melanie Monroe, Tate Berney (a child actor who I think I auditioned for a paint commercial a few years back), Dean Alioto (who directed The McPherson Tape, which AGFA just re-released), Carson Durham, Leif Gantvoort, McLean McGown, Allie Smith and Jan Munroe.

There are moments of long silence and just staring as music plays over the film, like some icy break people the dialogue. These types of drama movies usually don't work for me - if you read our site, you know that my heart lies in the blood soaked films of foreign countries, but if you enjoy family drama and lives caught in the balance, perhaps you will enjoy this. As for me, it just reminds me of extended family dinners that feel as if a stick of TNT has been lit and we all either attempt to blow out the fuse or relight it, depending on our temperment.

It has a decent budget and, as we mentioned above, several actors and actresses that you'll recognize from the past.

Sasquatch Among Wildmen
(2020)

Plenty of Bigfoot stories
The Russian Almasty, the Chinese The Yeren, the Himalaya's The Yeti - these are the many creatures that we refer to as Bigfoot. If you're followed our site for any length of time, you know that we love Bigfoot and movies about it. Just check our Letterboxd list, for example!

Darcy Weir - who specializes in journeys into the unknown - has created this look at this creature, bringing along experts like Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, Derek Randles, Shane Corson, David Ellis and Lee Lustig.



Following the success of his explosively popular Bigfoot documentary, The Unwonted Sasquatch, Weir has returned with a follow-up that aims to expand on the history of this creature and its possible Relic Hominid cousins internationally. Don't know what a Relic Hominid is? You better watch this and catch up!

If you've got 73 minutes and a burning desire to know more about whether or not these creatures exist, then this would be a pretty good use of your time. It's the closest thing as you can get to hunting down one of these elusive cryptids without getting down in teh dirt and making mating calls yourself.

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