Massacre at Central High (1976)

directed by renee daalder
evan company

Remember how you lived in fear of those kids at your high school who went, uh, hang gliding? You know – the ones who pushed everyone around and trashed the library. Oh, and tried to rape those weird hippie girls, and so forth. (Boy, that one kid had the grooviest custom van, though, didn’t he.) It was just such a shame about the poor kid, and the deaf one, and the fat one. Well, turns out what your school needed was a good allegory, as this excellent teensploitation film proves. A precursor to other films – scenes and characters herein must have served as inspiration for such celluloid classics as Heathers – and a predictor of symptoms of cultural decline (a kid in a TRENCH COAT perpetrates most of the mayhem in the latter half ), this production never fails to entertain. You may wonder how that’s possible at times, much as you may find the motivation of a few of the characters inscrutable, but ridiculous or not, it’ll hold your attention. Possibly its metaphorical qualities deserve the credit.

why did i watch this movie?

My brother texted me a link to an inordinately long trailer, which I took as a request.

should you watch this movie?

Have you enjoyed films such as Blackboard Jungle, Three O’Clock High, Class of 1984, the aforementioned Heathers, others of that ilk? If so, assuredly. (And if not, I can’t help you.)

highlight and low point

This picture features a bizarre scene at an alumni dance in which none of the characters appears to be dancing to the same music, leading me to wonder if any music was actually playing during the filming. Also, the focal character is chewing gum in almost every scene in which he appears. This does not appear to be germane to the plot.

rating from outer space: B+

XX (2017)

directed by jovanka vuckovic, roxanne benjamin, annie clark, karyn kusama, sofia carrillo
snowfort pictures/scythia pictures/xyz films

Oh hey look, it’s an anthology film! You love those! The hook here is that all four segments are by female directors, and mainly are written by them as well. (The first is based on a story by our old pal Jack Ketchum.) If you are a familiar of the horror anthology film and have seen any of the roughly 2,000 or so that have been churned out over the past handful of years, you no doubt are well aware they are governed strictly by the law of diminishing returns. This one is no different. Of the four chapters, one is effective if burdened by a creaky concept (“The Box”); one is ridiculously derivative of stories in several other anthologies I can think of without much difficulty (“Don’t Fall”); another also sadly lacks in originality and calls to mind analogues in recent compilation films (“Her Only Living Son”); and one is pretty amusing if somewhat predictable (“The Birthday Party”). Each portion is introduced by storebought interrelated stop-motion bullshit interstitial footage. Goddamn, will somebody tell me why I read these spy novels.

why did i watch this movie?

Because I am slow on the uptake, apparently. Go on, Billy, stick yer finger in the flame again! It won’t hurt this time – I promise.

Should you watch this movie?

You should make better use of your time, young woman. Or man. (Insert nonbinary term if preferred.)

highlight and low point

The best part of this collection is the reveal of the full title of part two. That probably says quite enough to wrap this up right here.

rating from outer space: D

Split (2017)

directed by m. night shyamalan
blinding edge pictures/blumhouse productions

After watching this feature, I think I can better understand the opprobrium I’ve often seen hurled at its director in discussions of his oeuvre. Not that this is a bad movie, mind you; it does what it does fairly well, but it has a … credibility issue. I mean, I found myself not buying the central premise. At all. Don’t get me wrong; I am not denying the possibility of traumatic onset of multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder. The theory involved in this picture, however, takes pseudoscience directly into the realm of the comic book, in my professional opinion. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.) Furthermore, I usually am not seeking stories concerning supernatural physical characteristics or characterizations, such as found in superhero or -villain flicks. In addition, I found the scant inserts providing backstory to be both clumsy and stereotyped. THEN it turns out it’s somehow part of a trilogy-of-sorts – or a tripartite narrative, maybe. And it’s also a little too long, if only because it gave me time to realize all this.

why did i watch this movie?

I appreciated Shyamalan’s previous effort, The Visit, and noticed this one receiving positive attention on a few year-end lists.

should you watch this movie?

It’s interesting, but ultimately unbelievable. Upon further reflection, I think it’s supposed to attain that effect … but I think it would best serve an action/thriller audience, and it doesn’t have a whole lot of what generally is termed “action.”

highlight and low point

I would suppose the main attraction of this piece to be the leading performance by James McAvoy, which is presented as though one is to regard it as a tour de force and not a display of ham. The final movement is preposterous.

rating from outer space: c−

Ritual (2013)

directed by mickey keating
after dark films/ebf productions

A movie with a well-nigh perfect setup for a drive-in, this throwback-styled picture concerns a woman who kills a guy in a motel room and calls her estranged husband for help, after which they become targets of a murder cult. See? That’s a hard premise to best, and while director Keating’s effort doesn’t quite deliver – there isn’t as much disturbing content as might be expected, nor as much emotional impact; some of the imagery is pretty cheesy and some sequences feel like no more than padding – it’s an impressive enough attempt that I almost immediately sought out a few more films with his stamp. (Those being Darling and Pod, which I’ll get to in due time.) As I’ve hinted before, a sliding scale is employed here, and Ritual is the right kind of endeavor in my book. You can’t fail if you don’t try, people. Trust me on that one.

why did i watch this movie?

See the opening statement above: nearly impeccable concept. I also wanted to check out the director.

should you watch this movie?

It may well disappoint you, lacking as it does the audacity to fulfill expectations.

highlight and low point

Certain sequences in this film either suggest a retro approach or blatantly flaunt the same, and I remain undecided whether this is imitative hackwork, willfully referential, chutzpah, insipidity … you get the idea. Either way, I enjoyed the effect, but I may have been laughing dismissively and not in admiration. The atmosphere throughout is appropriate.

rating from outer space: c−

The Visit (2015)

directed by m. night shyamalan
blinding edge pictures/blumhouse productions

I can’t judge a movie based on the marketplace opinion of its creator, especially when I’ve only seen one of his other movies (The Sixth Sense), so all I can say about The Visit is what I thought: It works. Quite well, in fact. Granted, the setup of the story is a bit questionable, and as that’s the only reason the developments that follow make any sense whatsoever, it invites a quibble. The SHOCKING twist is very effective, however, and the children are extremely believable in their performances, and the moments where it might be reasonable to entertain serious doubts about the enterprise are explained away with just the right dubious touch. True, it lacks for visceral thrills and seems more of a mild mystery for the bulk of its running time – when it doesn’t play like an out-and-out comedy, that is. Perhaps that abets the impact of the final punchline. Fun for the whole family!

why did i watch this movie?

I actually had little intention of watching this picture, as I couldn’t get a handle on it from cursory glances at its press, but at a certain point I needed something to play so voilà.

should you watch this movie?

I don’t know. Unsettling moments involving the grandparents might seem more troubling to some viewers than ordinary, everyday slasher-type frights. One’s tolerance of younger teenagers may also be a factor in the decision.

highlight and low point

The portrayal of people who are essentially strangers trying to bond over purported family ties is illustrated nicely, and again, the young actors do a very credible job. How tasteful some details are will be a matter of opinion, and the coda seems insufficiently informative.

rating from outer space: B+

Antibirth (2016)

directed by danny perez
traverse media/hideaway pictures

All right, now this is more like it. This flick is completely nuts, sort of a lower-budget X Files set in the rural hinterlands, homemade recreational drug territory. Featuring flashbacks, hallucinations, drugs real and invented, the military, prostitution, mutations, questionable pregnancies, abductions, untrustworthy acquaintances, bad decisions, shady characters and probably some other stuff, the plot takes a loooong time to gain any coherence, and when Meg Tilly’s loonybin character shows up to try to clue in our protagonist, naturally she is disbelieved. The film justifies itself after a fashion, in what is not a sympathetic manner but is definitely a memorable one. Truth be told, Antibirth is kind of a mess and could have helped itself by cleaning up a few discursions or extraneous characters. Overall, however, it manages to be both funny and nauseating, and is generally well-written and acted, usually avoiding cliché despite itself. Its surrealism probably aids it in that regard.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded different. It also sounded a bit like a kitchen-sink script. (You know, with everything but … )

should you watch this movie?

Really, this is precisely the kind of flick I enjoy championing. Someone had an oddball concept and ran with it, showing some ingenuity in realizing his vision. It’s not great – it may not even be “good,” how would I know – but it’s got passion and a plucky spirit, and is its own creation. Bully, I say.

highlight and low point

The portrayals of the down-and-out female druggie pals are quite amusing and uncomfortably accurate, the conspiratorial overtones are spot-on, and the ending is spectacularly bananas. Some of the seedier, more tasteless stuff pushes too close to the generic at times, as do the hypnagogic scenes.

rating from outer space: C+

The VVitch (2015)

directed by robert eggers
rt features/parts and labor/pulse films et al.

The first time I tried to watch this film, I stopped after about 10 minutes, as it started off with what at the time seemed to be a hokey attempt at a period setting, in this case early 1600s New England. I kept seeing rave reviews for it, however, so I gave it another go. Turns out it was nothing that I had expected. Sure, it’s got the rustic isolation and the religious underpinning, but it focuses almost entirely on just one family, alone at the edge of the woods. Things proceed slowly for a while, with only some parent-child tension and sibling rivalries raising suspicion, but once the action begins, I had to hang on to my hat, figuratively speaking. Still, for most of the picture, it’s a fairly standard affair – so much so that before the final act or so begins, I was preparing to write it off entirely. That final act, however, earns the proceedings a different perspective by taking things to an unforeseen level. (One detail in particular surprised me.) Not perfect, and in places banal, but not bad at all for the first-time director.

why did i watch this movie?

I done TOLD you, I got worn down by the heapings of critical praise.

should you watch this movie?

If you’re looking for a moody, slower-paced experience with a serious left turn or two at its resolution, by all means.

highlight and low point

This is a fine work of craftsmanship, and its detail and atmosphere play a significant role in its successes.  It was excessively difficult for me to understand a lot of dialogue early on, however, what with the archaic speech and dialect and the unfortunate tendency of the cast to mutter sotto voce.

rating from outer space: B-