Matriarch (2018)

written and directed by scott vickers
new light films

For a picture with nary an original idea, this production set in Scotland ended up being a taut, gripping, well-paced story, with a twist here and there – some interesting, some incredulous, and some superfluous – to differentiate it from the pack … slightly. Overall, however, very little happens in this flick that you haven’t experienced before, except for maybe the nearly impenetrable Scotch accents of a pair of extremely minor characters. (Seriously, I could have used English subtitles for their dialogue.) On the plus side, it’s very well filmed, acted and directed and all that. But c’mon, this is the synopsis: “An expecting mother and husband crash their car in the countryside and are offered shelter by a farmer and his wife. Soon they realize,” etc. I suppose the intense Christianity of the rural family qualifies as an innovative attempt, but let’s face it, twisting the orientation and bearing of religions and the religious isn’t exactly a brand-new concept for a horror movie, either.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, it didn’t seem to involve demonic possession, so that was a plus.

should you watch this movie?

I mean … it has its moments, but it just kinda follows the template, really.

highlight and low point

a tense and gripping moment

The isolated family is very effectively creepy, particularly the taciturn father played by Alan Cuthbert, who expresses malevolence with naught but his baleful silence at times. What could have been an overwhelmingly terrifying sequence was mostly spoiled by a dire lack of acceptable realism, however, and what may have been intended as a SHOCKING twist at the conclusion just falls flat. One minor unexpected revelation manages to be humorously chilling, and the dismal ambience is effectively sustained.

rating from outer space: B

Body Snatchers (1993)

directed by abel ferrara
a robert h. solo production

Well, I was certainly unaware they’d ever made this adaptation of the hoary classic. A thoroughly modern retelling – circa its ’90s setting – it’s mostly unnecessary, and though it tries to evoke the kind of slowly dawning realization that humanity is doomed (DOOMED, I tell you!) that pervades the original and its 1978 remake, the moment is effectively subsumed by the bitchin’ revenge sequence, and not reinvigorated by the predictably ambiguous ending. I will give it credit for engaging in some action that would totally not pass muster in these jingoistic times, but not for underutilizing Meg Tilly. Too slick and stylized, in the then-modern mode of a moody music video, and with its suspense consistently undercut by the ease with which one can identify who the good guys are. Not too sure why somebody thought this was necessary.

why did i watch this movie?

First, I was all like, wait, they made another version of that? And then I noticed who directed it.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a curiosity and nothing more.

highlight and low point

Along with featuring its heroes blowing up Army bases and troops, another little wrinkle that would be a no-go taboo today is that although Gabrielle Anwar’s character in the story is 17, she has a nude scene. I guess the most affecting parts of the flick rely on the barely explored family tensions, because surely the unexplained existence of the now-aquatic pods and the largely ignored military hierarchy don’t carry much weight. How the replicated humanoids detect and alert their kind to the existence of humans in their midst is completely laughable and generically evocative.

rating from outer space: C−

La Terrificante Notte Del Demonio aka La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable aka The Devil’s Nightmare aka Au Service du Diable aka The Devil Walks at Midnight (1971)

directed by jean brisme’e (sic)
delfino film/cetelci s.a.

Literally titled “The Terrifying Night of the Devil” in its native Italian and “The Longest Night of the Devil” in French (it was an Italian and Belgian co-production), one might immediately suspect they’d find a mishandled feature in which nobody was too invested, but this classic European sleaze actually impressed me no end. Well, at least the middle portion did, as for a while this tale of seven travelers unwillingly spending a fateful night in an eerie castle became intriguing and stylish. The latter third is less trashy than the first third and more pedestrian than that which precedes it, though it does introduce some priceless camp elements and is not without its moments. On the whole, the picture surpasses reasonable expectations. Oh, and it disproves the widely held notion that castles don’t have phones, for those keeping score at home.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, whilst I was scouring sources for stuff to screen, I saw the English sobriquet for this picture and was immediately agog. “The devil’s nightmare?” I wondered, suspecting linguistic malfeasance. Ergo …

should you watch this movie?

A good time would be had by all, assuredly.

highlight and low point

Somewhat surprisingly, given the overall mood and orientation of this affair, it boasts the least passionate “lesbian” scene one may ever witness. (To call it “tepid” would be a wild exaggeration.) It counterbalances this shortcoming, however, with the most floridly literal depiction possible of signing a contract with the devil. Somewhere in between these extremes, it presents a panoply of themes and settings familiar from such fare as House on Haunted Hill, Clue and Se7en, to name just the most obvious. Erika Blanc’s succubine Lisa Müller is a particular treat throughout.

rating from outer space: B+

Invitation to Hell (1984)

directed by wes craven
moonlight productions, II

I don’t think I realized this was a made-for-TV picture when I opted to watch it, and I’m kinda glad, as that’s where a lot of what passes for its charm resides. Well, that and the oh-so-’80s themes and vibe, from its stars (Robert Urich! Soleil Moon Frye!) to its heavy-handed insistence on conformity and social climbing – “The last 10 years haven’t been easy on us, Matt … and I want a piece of the pie” – and let’s not overlook that it’s centered around a company called “Micro-Digitech” and a mysteriously affiliated country club. It couldn’t have been more of the moment. Unfortunately, aside from its high kitsch quotient, this flick doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. Nothing about it will surprise you, and it probably could’ve done with less content restriction than primetime viewing would allow.

note: NOT product placement

why did i watch this movie?

By now you probably know the answer to that question.

should you watch this movie?

Though it’s the kind of thing that should’ve just been sealed in a time capsule, not used for actual entertainment purposes, this production is rather amusing, if quite lightweight.

highlight and low point

For a forgettable and mostly ridiculous period piece, it must be noted that taken piecemeal it offers high value. From Susan Lucci’s vampy society hostess to Kevin McCarthy’s telling inclusion, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. (I particularly enjoyed that the location of the veterinarian’s home business was highly reminiscent of that of the Devil Dog kennels, much as the Winslow family’s house appears to be located in the same neighborhood.) The ludicrously rudimentary FX leading into the finale would have to be seen to be believed.

Rating from outer space: C−

Vampire Circus (1972)

directed by robert young
hammer film productions

“Better no mother than a mother that worships the devil!” proclaims a vindictive villager as this picture comes out with all guns blazing. (Torches, actually.) I immediately wondered if I needed to start watching everything with the Hammer name from this time period. Child slaughter, nudity, lust, arson, mayhem … and that was all in the first 15 minutes, before the credits ended. Things settle down after that, once the gypsies show up with the “Circus of Nights,” although a hearty massacre of three members of a family – by a panther – does find its way in there. (The panther is rather amusingly animated and exaggerated by the FX of the day.) Despite getting a bit bogged down in the villagers’ struggle to understand what has befallen them, however, enough eldritch touches recur to keep things moving along nicely toward the expected ending.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, I try my best to keep my motives pure and my intellectual pursuits respectable, but this damn flick is called “Vampire Circus.”

should you watch this movie?

terrifying muppet gore

If you don’t find the title “Vampire Circus” deliriously fetching, then probably not.

highlight and low point

The Circus has an attraction called “Mirror of Life,” and it is within this enclosed tent that nefarious truths are revealed, of course. One of the scenes that takes place in said location is pretty impressively intimidating. Some of the moments when the main vampiric henchman Emil brandishes his fangs verge on silly. Oh, and if you’re keeping track, herein it is once again revealed that removing the stake from the undead’s heart will allow it to return to its imitation of life. So apparently I forgot that bit of mythology somewhere along the way.

rating from outer space: B−

Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak (1995)

directed by stuart gordon
full moon entertainment

The movie business is a cutthroat and fickle marketplace, of course, and that reality is exemplified in the fact that this entertaining little horror was consigned to the straight-to-video realm despite its director’s pedigree and track record. Or because of it, maybe. Whatever the case, this Italian production deserved at least a short run in the second-thought weekend theaters of Middle America. An outlandish tale of an inheritance gone terribly wrong due to an incredible oversight (or two), with comedic values so dark they border on sick, and some distinctive gore that yet manages to preserve an air of restraint, I could not locate whatever intrinsic flaw condemned it to its rental-store destiny. It even has random, unnecessary nudity, for crying out loud. Sure, it doesn’t really follow some of its convoluted plot points to any sort of conclusion, dodging an opportunity to make things really interesting, and ends abruptly without much of any resolution, but I rather doubt such a condition would negatively affect anybody’s overall opinion.

why did i watch this movie?

I think this one falls into the “why hadn’t I already seen this?” category … Combs! Crampton! Alleged H.P. Lovecraft inspiration!

should you watch this movie?

Why haven’t you already seen it?

highlight and low point

The sequence beginning with Jeffrey Combs’s John Reilly getting drunk and culminating in the polizia coming to talk to him about a missing woman features all of the little things that make this picture work: passion, pathos, subtle humor, grievous bodily harm. It takes kind of a long time for the action to start rolling, however, and maybe a little too long for any of the muddled family stories to begin to make sense.

rating from outer space: B+

The Strangeness (“1985”)

directed by david michael hillman
stellarwind

“Strangeness” is deciding to film nearly an entire movie inside an unconvincing “mine.” (Very obviously plaster.) With at least some cast members who never may have acted before, or since. And a creature that is kind of an amalgam of those found in The Deadly Spawn and The Mutations, only less credible. Plus a miraculous exit from deep within the mine that’s completely ludicrous. As to that “strangeness” … they couldn’t come up with a better name for it, you know? And despite the fact that one of the characters is a writer concocting an adventure yarn out of this abandoned gold mine’s backstory, the “strangeness” is never discussed by anyone. As for the other characters … yeah.

why did i watch this movie?

Little-seen pix sometimes end up being called “overlooked gems” or attracting attention for this feature or that one, but … there’s usually a reason nobody’s seen ’em.

should you watch this movie?

That’s really not necessary, unless you want to see an “abandoned mine” that looks even more ersatz than the one in The Boogens. Fun fact: the credits read “Copyright © 1980 By Stellarwind–The Strangeness.” It took FIVE YEARS to find a straight-to-video distributor!

highlight and low point

A final look at the mysterious underground creature, showing it in stop-motion glory devouring what is obviously an action figure purporting to be one of the actors, in a poorly filmed and ineptly edited insert, does not heighten the fear factor and the intimidation level of the monstrous oddity. The stiffly acted characters, most of which are unconvincing or irritating, each bear a significant personal flaw. For a film that largely takes place in dark caverns, it’s usually fairly easy to follow the proceedings – a rarity for such a low-budget undertaking.

rating from outer space: D+