Burnt Offerings (1976)

directed by dan curtis
p.e.a. films/dan curtis productions

Now, this is more like it! A tremendously realized mid-’70s fright flick that succeeds without any of the earmarks that would soon begin to plague the genre (slashing, masks, teenagers, etc.), this mainly psychological horror picture draws one in the old-fashioned way. Something’s obviously wrong, seemingly minor issues continuously get more worrisome, the situation keeps deteriorating … but nothing too specific can be identified. (You’ll probably get an inkling, of course.) Tiny hints here and there tiptoe toward the devastating conclusion, and it’s all handled impeccably. Well, truth be told, things get a little out of hand as that ending nears, including some of the performances, but that neither lessens the impact nor diminishes the achievement. The film does almost overstay its welcome; it’s a minor flaw, though exacerbated a bit as the climax nears, as it feels as though substantial cuts must have been made. Oliver Reed is his usual intense self throughout, so that’s a hoot, Karen Black handles a complicated role fairly well, and Bette Davis is excellent.

why did i watch this movie?

I have almost watched this one any number of times, so this time I just said all right already … and turns out it’s based on a novel by a fellow alumnus of the college from which I was graduated.

should you watch this movie?

As an exemplar of how to make an effectively frightening picture without a lot of foofaraw, it is commendable, if inexactly titled. It actually plays as though it’s from a few years earlier, even.

highlight and low point

While the stage is being set, so to speak, developments seem a bit dubious and a couple of minor characters chafe. Later, some of what transpires is almost underplayed, and depends on the audience’s perception and attention to do some of the heavy lifting. (Imagine!) During the culminating scene, a legitimately unexpected – nay, SHOCKING – event occurs.

rating from outer space: a–

The Boogens (1981)

directed by james l. conway
taft international pictures

Boy howdy, what a terrible name for a movie. That didn’t prevent me from enjoying, say, The Babadook, however, so I took the plunge and watched this classic ’80s silliness. You know the drill: two young couples, some questionable activity (in this case, reopening an old silver mine), funny dog, mysterious character creeping around, forgotten lore that possibly holds key information, and so forth. Oh, and – of course – a ridiculous creature. And lemmy tell ya, you’d have to walk a good mile to find a more ridiculous creature than the poorly named ridiculous creature that gives this movie its lousy title. (At one point, I believe I discerned that part of the creature was a vacuum cleaner hose.) One interesting thing about this flick, though, is that all of the thespians are fully invested, providing much better acting than the script probably warranted. Lightweight and enjoyable fare from early in the Reagan Era.

why did i watch this movie?

The cast list is headed by Rebecca Balding, who of course played “Carol David” on Soap, and since I watched that other movie she was in, I felt obliged.

should you watch this movie?

It would be a good fit for a themed horror nite or festival at some friendly neighborhood venue.

highlight and low point

The second female lead is played by “Sgt. Doreau” from Sledge Hammer! but to be completely honest, the funny dog (one of two Bichon Frises) has the best role in the film, and does a terrific job with it. The utterly fake mine interiors are also splendid. The hilarious terrifying title creature(s), however, cannot be topped. (Allegedly, only one was made; once it’s revealed, one surmises this is possibly because it was constructed of whatever was lying around and no additional materials were on hand.)

rating from outer space: B−

He TRIED to warn them

Bloody Birthday (1981)

directed by ed hunt
judica productions

Looking for some movies to watch during the MLB All-Star break, I came across this title and, as I read the synopsis and noted the release date, was flabbergasted that I’d never before even heard of the picture. Then I watched it, and the reason soon became apparent: it’s not very good. And though I’ve seen mild claims that it may have attained cult status, I don’t think I believe that revisionism, as the goings-on here can’t sustain enough appeal of any sort to induce such an outcome. Not that it isn’t entirely without merit, mind you; a murderous trio of preteens is compelling, especially as the three seem to be of perverse inclinations besides just their predilection for killing. Too much goes undeveloped, however, especially the ostensible motif of an astrological underpinning to the youths’ malevolence. The acting on display is not highly polished, either. All in all, this one comes across a little too much like a genre exploitation cheapie.

why did i watch this movie?

As related above, I just kind of found it and wondered why I hadn’t known it existed, and thought it sounded encouraging.

should you watch this movie?

Unless it’s because you uncovered it in a time capsule, that’s probably not a worthwhile endeavor.

highlight and low point

The bedroom of the character Beverly, who is played by alleged musical comedienne-to-be Julie Brown, features posters of Blondie, Ted Nugent AND Van Halen (and … Roger Daltrey?), and is also the location of the most blatantly extraneous nudity in this spectacle. Oh, and Beverly’s murderous sister Debbie is portrayed by the same little girl as the one Jake claims he wants to buy while sabotaging Mr. Fabulous’s high-paying maître d’ gig at the Chez Paul in The Blues Brothers. One or more of the murders doesn’t seem at all feasible.

rating from outer space: D+

The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018)

directed by johannes roberts
rogue pictures/bloom/white comet films/the fyzz facility

As this oddly delayed sequel began – a decade after the first installment – I confess, I really, really wanted to bag on it; the onset is not promising and it appeared as though it would be a cliché-ridden parade of stock characters and situations. Credit where it’s due, however – this film delivers exactly what it’s supposed to deliver, and it does it well. Not overly saddled with any particular panache, and devoid of much in the way of creativity beyond the overall “Strangers” framework, it’s still adept at ratcheting up the tension and producing effectively understated frights. Wisely, the palette is opened up a bit from the original, as the characters are not confined to one specific place, and although some of what could be termed “character development” verges on slasher-film shtick, it remains essentially rooted in realism. It IS a bit meta, however, occasionally evoking the line productions of the post-Scream era, and perhaps a bit predictable when it morphs into a revenge picture for a while. All told, a few groans don’t detract much. No classic, but it will entertain you well enough.

why did i watch this movie?

I enjoyed the first one, as well as Them (Ils), the French film that prefigured it, so what the hell, I reckoned.

should you watch this movie?

It’s more or less a traditional slasher-type picture, so it depends on your tastes.

highlight and low point

The moment when one of the teenagers confronts one of the Strangers who is Preying at Night and asks the “WHY are you DOING this” question amused me no end, and other related moments were also pretty good. The family that is Preyed upon at Night by the Strangers is actively annoying much of the time, and I did not particularly enjoy the screenwriting relating to said family.

rating from outer space: C+

Wildling (2018)

directed by fritz bÖhm
maven pictures/film i vÄst/filmgate films

This goofy little B-movie is a good example of what kinds of films this site’s proprietor often prefers. (Why is a different subject.) By rights, it SHOULD be hampered by various difficulties, not the least of which is its ridiculous story, and among which are occasionally lax production values, unconvincing acting and the overall feeling that it’s a made-for-TV affair. Nonetheless, it mostly succeeds, even if it doesn’t quite fulfill any variety of promises suggested when it shifts into the present tense. Coincidences and improbabilities propel the plot, highlighted by the irrepressible Brad Dourif emoting another weirdo and basically causing all the trouble. I didn’t even mention the stirring title anthem that you will probably immediately identify, as I did, as being written and performed by Linda Perry. So what, exactly, works here then, one may well be wondering. Call it pathos; within the outlandish framework resides the tale of a girl searching for family.

why did i watch this movie?

The plot concerns a young girl kept locked in her room ostensibly for her own protection … AND WOULD YOU BELIEVE –

should you watch this movie?

You know, it can be hard to differentiate these days what type of film one is watching, what with VOD being its own estimable category or genre. I mean, it’s not really the equivalent of a movie being “straight to video” BITD. That being said, when you’re in the mood for a streaming original or whatever, you may as well opt for this one.

highlight and low point

The part of the story that concerns the girl’s journey into normal society is interesting and handled differently than one may expect, but after a certain transformative point it becomes kind of mawkish, and then the budget makeup and/or FX department(s) take/s over. The film often feels oddly restrained throughout, and somewhat surreal. And I’ve mentioned Brad Dourif.

rating from outer space: C+

A Quiet Place (2018)

directed by john krasinski
platinum dunes/sunday night

This picture boasts one innovative idea, which I anticipated watching unfold. Unfortunately, it didn’t bear quite enough fruit – either the producers didn’t have the nerve to take their conceit far enough or they modulated it a bit in the pursuit of mass consumption. The concept, of course, is a whole lotta silence, the reason being the premise that Earth has been invaded and decimated by aliens that hunt by sound. That’s a pretty great proposition, even with some of the questions it raises, but the filmmakers encounter issues with its execution. Now, I mean the following seriously, given that this is a movie dealing with deadly alien invaders that hunt by sound alone: far too many logical inconsistencies present themselves, disabling any suspension of disbelief. I mean, virtually from the opening scene, I was incredulous. That’s kind of a serious problem. A peculiarly reactionary sociology  in the family structure has been noted elsewhere; it becomes perhaps even more curious when one considers that the director/co-writer and his wife are the lead actors.

why did i watch this movie?

The notion of a horror film based on a dearth of sound and largely lacking in dialogue intrigued me.

should you watch this movie?

Possibly, if you are in dire need of a fix for your craving for yet another derivation of H.R. Giger’s Alien archetype.

highlight and low point

Ironically enough, though overall kudos must be granted for having an original thought in a genre often lacking in such, as hinted above the intruders are Giger’s “Alien,” AGAIN. But don’t limit yourself to the creatures when searching for absurdities in this one. Among my personal favorites are the large signs the patriarch has set up in his workshop that conveniently provide the viewing audience with crucial information, and which cannot possibly serve any real purpose for him or his family.

rating from outer space: C−

Hereditary (2018)

directed by ari aster
palmstar media

Another first-time feature director, Aster turns in an assured, forceful debut with this atmospheric creepshow. The pace is measured and the plot unfolds slowly, along the way doling out seemingly offhand tidbits that to this viewer were frankly hilarious at times. (It is hard to say whether any humor was intended.) The story keeps one’s attention, though for the first half or so that is often a byproduct of the fact that it is difficult to suss out precisely what is afoot. Once the second half gets going, it’s more compulsive. A set piece here or there dips into the tried-and-true, flirting with trite, but such engagement mainly serves to reinforce a vague feeling of nostalgia – although it is also true that on occasion a nagging sense of déjà vu may prevail. Never too viscerally frightening, what the proceedings suggest will linger long enough to give one a pretty good case of the heebie-jeebies … as long as certain plot points aren’t given too much thought, of course. Often redolent of a David Lynch film.

why did i watch this movie?

My brother asked me if I’d seen it, so I decided I oughta.

should you watch this movie?

While I’m not sure I agree with the raft of assessments that seem to behold this picture as an utterly terrifying modern horror classic, it’s definitely above-average.

highlight and low point

As has been observed in multiple locations, Toni Collette in the lead role is spectacularly mental, hinted at by affectations and mannerisms and illustrated by torrential revelatory outpourings. These welters of information give the film its dramatic propulsion. Gabriel Byrne, on the other hand, is a cipher as her husband, possibly to prefigure certain thematic elements but playing more as an underacted, nonessential role. The aha moment is underwhelming, having been somewhat telegraphed and bearing the tinge of the overly familiar.

rating from outer space: B