Smile (2022)

Written and Directed by Parker Finn
Temple Hill Entertainment

Don’t misconstrue what I’m about to say – but this film was kind of a letdown. See, it has one of the most effective and audacious pre-title sequences of anything I’ve seen any time recently (or ever), the kind that left me babbling aloud incoherently. If the entirety could somehow have sustained that, well, it would’ve been an all-timer. It couldn’t, of course, and so it isn’t, but regardless of its well-noted weaknesses, this picture remains an effective and intense depiction of one woman’s deteriorating mental space (and relationships, and existence). That there were many possibilities for what direction this production could have gone added to its impact, even if the route it chose was less than satisfying … though that’s open to interpretation, befitting the story. Feel free to ascribe to it your preferred symbolic framework.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I saw a commercial for it – you know, with the creepy woman. That’s all it took. Sometimes I’m an easy sell.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

Those who are less forgiving than me may find it too derivative at times, or too predictable at others, and yes, it leans very heavily on jump scares. (Despite all that, it sustained my interest.)

HIghlight and Low Point

I don’t think it’s out of the question that this pic could be read as being all in its protagonist’s mind – and indeed, it seems as though the filmmaker wants to encourage that suspicion with his prolific use of skewed or inverted camera angles. (Upside down equaling CRAZEE, etc.) The main character’s name is “Rose,” and when she finally meets the EVIL in its penultimate form, it looks a lot like “Marilyn Manson.” You can call that a coincidence, sure.

Rating From Outer Space: B−

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Directed by Damiano Damiani
Dino De Laurentiis Corporation

Ordinarily I have some inkling of how to start these pieces, but I confess, for this title I am somewhat at a loss. A prequel-of-sorts before such a thing became to a degree de rigueur for the horror film franchise – and not blameless in the rise of the horror film franchise itself, come to think of it – this ridiculous would-be epic shamelessly borrows from its, um, successor while also brazenly aping The Exorcist (or any of its already plentiful ripoffs). Along the way, it manages to toss in some hilarious disrespect to Church figures, the least believable courtroom scene since Night Court The Bonfire of the Vanities, a complicated incestuous relationship between siblings, spousal and child abuse, body horror, schlock FX, a priest kidnapping a patient from a hospital with police assistance, evil voice instructions, an “Indian burial ground,” and nearly everything else you could think of except red herrings and space aliens. An impressive accomplishment, really.

Why Did I Watch This MOvie?

I wish I could recall … something I was reading about another film led me to a synopsis of this one, and it provoked me. Because it sounded so lurid, I should add.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

It plays the way I figure a spoof of the “Scary Movie” ilk would. Fewer laffs, probably.


Highlight and Low Point

In what I can only term a dubiously satisfying twist, this picture’s fairly shameless imitation of possessed-person tropes from William Friedkin’s 1973 original offering is repaid fully by Exorcist III‘s borrowing of this flick’s jailhouse colloquies. Burt Young’s patriarch refers to the priest as “Priest,” as though it’s his name. At times, the house and “Sonny” seem simultaneously bewitched, enhancing the (everything-but-the) kitchen-sink undertakings. Kitchen sink included!

Rating From Outer Space:

The Blob (1988)

Directed by Chuck Russell
Palisades California, Inc.

This remake of the ’50s classic is not a horror comedy, and I don’t think I’d even describe it as being tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time, it’s not exactly a, you know, raw slice of life or anything of the sort. Diminishing somewhat its precursor’s contemporary Cold War setting for a more cynical view of the military-industrial complex – and right now I’m trying to remember what specifically in the late ’80s may have spawned the aspersions being cast herein – this picture does vividly evoke its era, at least for someone who was a teenager himself when it was made. (Perhaps the Eighties’ ongoing obsession with “The Fifties” was one reason this flick was produced.) And I enjoyed it about as much now as I did then, to boot. The foreboding ending even still carries portent in these throwback benighted times … unfortunately.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

One of the books I’m currently reading is It Came From The Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror; this film is one of the subjects of the essay “Indescribable” by contributor Carrow Narby. (“Of all the ‘classic’ monsters from folklore and film, the iconic blob monster never seems to get much attention as a queer figure, in scholarship or in popular media.”)

Should You Watch This Movie?

“Blobs are not queer incidentally. They are not queer simply because, through narrative contrivance, they might be associated with the destruction of heterosexual order, as in The Blob … The blob’s relationship to queerness is a product of its basic symbolic function.”

Highlight and Low Point

The essayist’s point is perhaps understandable given the archetypes proffered in this movie’s Americana: the football jocks, the wholesome cheerleader, the nuclear families, the longhaired punk, and so forth.

Rating From Outer Space: B+

La Dinastia Dracula aka Dracula ’87 aka La dinastía de Dracula aka Dynasty of Dracula aka Dynastie Dracula (1980)

Directed by Alfredo B. Crevenna
Co-Director Claudia Becker
Conacite Dos

You would be excused for thinking this flick is a parody, along the lines of 1979’s Love at First Bite, but although that isn’t actually the case, I hereby invite you to go ahead and enjoy it in that light anyway. Heaven knows you may not be able to otherwise enjoy this (copyrighted 1978) telenovela version of the same old Dracula mythos, transplanted here to Mexico. This time, the Count is German, for some reason, which is not reflected in his unaccented Spanish. The FX are repetitious and hilarious, the vampires suspiciously easy to defeat, and the subtitles occasionally provide nothing other than “?????” (Thanks to whoever provided them, though!) This is one case where the remarkably poor quality of the aged, digitized VHS copy only enhances the experience. Two things are unexpectedly, if not exactly surprisingly, missing: a blaring rock soundtrack and gratuitous (or any) nudity.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

It sounded interesting enough, and I felt as though I’d been neglecting foreign horror offerings.


Should You Watch This Movie?

If you look for information about this production, you will encounter more than one comparison to monster films featuring Paul Naschy. Make of that what you must.

Highlight and Low Point

When the vampire is in “bat” form, the bat is not only obviously extremely fake but is accompanied by loud squeaking sounds, akin to those of a pet toy. When the vampire appears before a hapless victim, it’s behind a flash of flame. When the vampire bares his fangs, which he does often – and which are also obviously extremely fake – he … growls? hisses? In addition, “holy water” in this picture provides a multitude of results when it is sprinkled on various evil entities.

Rating From Outer Space: D−

Halloween Ends (2022)

Directed by David Gordon Green
Trancas International Films/Rough House Pictures/Universal Pictures/Miramax/Blumhouse

You remember in the remake of Friday the 13th how Jason had that underground lair? Well, Mikey Myers sorta has one of those in this idiotic picture, which additionally curries some Final Chapter/New Beginning zest. Which I guess is fitting, since this rebooted trilogy tried so hard to make “Michael” into J. Voorhees anyway. Most of Jamie Lee Curtis’s scenes are borderline unwatchable in this edition – allegedly the last of these, so we don’t have to pretend we’re interested anymore – and the voiceover narration of her (terrible) “book” is embarrassing. (Her minimal interactions with other cast members seem largely perfunctory as well.) Even for an endeavor that at best was going to be derivative and pandering, this release feels insipid, just one pat scene after another. And as usual, if you bother to think about any of it, it only gets dumber.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Title, date, obstinacy.

 
Should You Watch This MOvie?

The afternoon of the 31st, I listened to the Dead Kennedys album Plastic Surgery Disasters, in tribute to recently deceased drummer D.H. Peligro, because it contains the song “Halloween.” Coincidentally, a bar-party scene in this film features the two main characters dancing to that very same song.

Highlight and Low Point

I presume the (FOUR!) “writers” didn’t intend any anti-bullying message, especially given the namby-pamby transference BS they include. Reconfiguring the whole conceit of “The Shape” may be a halfway decent idea, or it just may be my transposition of their muddle. That Mike is something of an enfeebled afterthought here could be considered incisive commentary on the bogeyman-as-cipher … but isn’t played that way. The bottom line remains: no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

Rating From Outer Space: D−

The Cave (2005)

Directed by Bruce Hunt
Lakeshore Entertainment/City Productions/Cineblue

Trying to decide how to introduce this silly wannabe-blockbuster action thriller, I realized I should just state the facts: I decided to watch The Cave precisely because I knew what I could expect to get from the experience. See, I was in the mood for a fair-to-middling production with a “Hollywood” feel, by which I mean an affair so divorced from any actual identifiable reality that its viewer can just comfortably settle in with the stock setup and characters, and soak up the stupid. Striving for mediocrity, The Cave did its job admirably – perhaps too much so, as it barely recovered production costs after factoring in global revenues.

Now, when I try to describe what I had been seeking, let me allow Wikipedia to contribute its description of the cast of characters: “thrill seeking professional cave explorers who run a world famous scuba diving team” (sic). Set in Romania, under an ancient church, the Knights Templar … nah, never mind that, the script barely bothers anyway. Concentrate instead on the mysterious “parasite” that transforms its host into some sorta Species. Because ultimately what this flick brought to mind was the 1995 movie with that as its title.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I wasn’t in the mood for Halloween Ends.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Much as I once compared a clumsy example of an ’80s teen-kill picture to comfort food, I’d halfheartedly endorse this vehicle of dunderhead escapism … if it were, say, as good as The Descent.

HIghlight and Low Point

I found the creatures inhabiting THE cave to be prosaic, at least once they were fully visible. I would also quibble with the biological processes allegedly on display, but I’d like to retain a shred of dignity.

Rating From Outer Space: c−

The Burrowers (2007)

Written and Directed by JT Petty
Lionsgate/Blue Star Entertainment

It’s probably a fairly damning indictment of a horror picture – or any similar kind of picture, actually – if it revolves around some horrible creatures doing horrible things and the worst problem the production has is the appearance of those very same creatures. Now, to be fair, I suppose the “burrowers” here are not actually all that bad; they’re effectively creepy and gross, and only occasionally betray their CGI animation. They don’t necessarily stretch the bounds of credulity too terribly, either. So what the hell is my problem?

A slow-building, personality-driven nature horror, with all kinds of subtle societal commentaries, this Western set in the Dakota Territories during the time of the “Indian Wars” doesn’t overwhelm its viewer with visceral assaults, preferring to derive its impact from psychological discomfort. All right, fine, that’s laying it on a bit thick, but there’s a villain here that isn’t the insectile hunters, whose method of preparing their dinner is damned unsettling in its own right.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I had no idea this flick existed until only recently, as it was amongst those discussed in 100 American Horror Films (published, obviously, by the British Film Institute).

Should You Watch This Movie?

If, like me, you’re a sucker for tracking down, once you’ve finally heard of them, underpublicized films described as being of an originalist bent … sure.

Highlight and Low Point

As hinted above, upon further reflection I can accept the titular beasties well enough. While actually watching the proceedings, however, I hated them. (Admittedly, I tend to be hypercritical of modern movie monsters.) And I will employ my usual shtick to aver that the truly disheartening REAL HORROR here is only to be discovered at the bitter end.

Rating From OUter Space: B

Contagion (2011)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Double Feature Films/Gregory Jacobs

Maybe it’s not quite the feat of soothsaying it immediately may appear to be, but watching this picture with the hindsight of having lived through the brunt of the Covid disruption was a pretty amazing experience. And it’s a credit to Soderbergh’s artistry, I think, that I was so absorbed in the story he was telling that I didn’t even think about the REAL HORROR – which is of course that we knew, everybody knew, exactly what was going to happen when a real pandemic arose … and we did all the stupid things anyway, exacerbating a threatening situation until it became the deadliest farce imaginable. (Until the next one.) Too grim? Too pessimistic? Well, I’m typing this with a sore left arm, having gotten my second Covid booster (the new bivalent one) two days ago. And I still wear a mask every day at work. But I’m in the distinct minority there, where we also have some anti-vaxxers on staff. If you really think nothing else like Covid – or the unnamed SARS virus in this movie – will happen again, my question would then concern your level of trust in your fellow humans. You know, just in case.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

It was included in 100 American Horror Films by Barry Keith Grant, and I’d never seen it.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Because I’m cynical, and have no trust whatsoever in my fellow humans, my answer here is why fucking bother.


Highlight and Low Point

This picture is excellent, but I did have a problem with what I consider an ill-conceived subplot involving the abduction of a WHO epidemiologist in a political maneuver. It struck a discordant note of fiction in the film’s otherwise credible verisimilitude.

Rating From OUter Space: A−

They/Them (2022)

Written And Directed By John Logan
Bh/Desert Wolf

You know, if you’re a horror movie kinda person, you might make some general allowances for films made in your preferred idiom. For example, imagine, oh, I don’t know … maybe a “slasher” flick that takes place at … oh, let’s say a “camp.” With such a familiar setup, you therefore might reasonably expect certain motifs, themes, tropes, what-have-you. And when all the stuff you more or less expect happens, it’s more or less what you’re willing to accept.

Except familiarity breeds contempt, and in this made-for-TV “Peacock original,” there are multiple problems. After the not-unforeseeable reveal is, well, revealed, it just doesn’t pass muster, a literally unbelievable gaffe that’s a disastrous last choice for Their underwhelming genre attempt.

I had higher hopes for this picture. I did appreciate the mild pronoun joke (poorly aped just above). And though I’ll grant that one must start somewhere in working out how to approach broadening the scope of flicks like these, this attempt mainly just shoehorns orientation/gender topics into an unimaginative template. I began this piece by pointing out my willingness to play along, but – ironically enough – this production mainly comes across like it’s not sure what it really wants to be.

Uninspired even by stock horror standards, it feels as though it was written around its cliché bonding moment – a musical number.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

In another review, I suggested a “slasher movie where the trans character breaks the usual archetype,” and imagined that potential addressed here.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t come close, but one character (“Jordan”) takes a tentative step.


Highlight and Low Point

HEY DIDJA KNOW THE TITLE’S PRONOUNCED “THEY SLASH THEM”


That attempted witticism’s not even an accurate synopsis!

Rating From OUter SPace: D+

The Bay (2012)

Directed by Barry Levinson
Baltimore Pictures/Haunted Movies

Like most people who prefer to believe they’re rational actors, I hear the descriptions “found footage” and “mockumentary” in the synopsis of a “horror film” and I metaphorically run the other way. Then again, it is also true that nearly every art form, no matter how dubious, contains within it the potential for the sublime, for a performance that can outstrip its lowly genesis.

There are two directions I could be headed here, right? “This is not that movie” or “The Bay is a stellar example.” Well, it’s the latter. Buttressed by some splendid performances amongst its nearly anonymous cast, and paced very effectively in the creeping dread of its reveals, this Barry Levinson production is an exemplary and audacious eco-terror. Something is terribly wrong in Chesapeake Bay, you see. Is chicken farming to blame? Perhaps yes, but it’s much more complicated than that. Even so, between this and Cooties, the poultry industry must have been glad that lower-tier fright flicks don’t generate a lot of societal uproar.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

‘Twas Independence Day, but I couldn’t make it through the blockbuster with that title; the action herein also takes place on said holiday.


Should You Watch This Movie?

As a Radical Leftist® who thinks commercial fishing should be banned, of course I endorse this picture.


Highlight and Low Point

I noted three major detractions from the “documentary” conceit: The American oceanographer constantly carping (sorry) about his French partner’s accent; the fact that the fish the oceanographers examined didn’t quite look freshly caught; and the improbably framed closeups on one character’s face as he drove. Most convincing murder/suicide scene I can imagine, though. And the interactions between the doctor and the CDC were eerily instructive.

Rating From Outer Space: A−