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+

Crucible of Terror (1971)

directed by ted hooker
glendale film productions

A daft look at the capital demands of the post-heyday Swingin’ London art scene – no, really, that’s the initial setting here – this British suspense flick takes a significant turn for the weird after little over an hour. By which I mean, a secret hidden passage that cannot possibly exist is discovered by a character who should find it incredibly disturbing, but neither she nor anybody else reacts strangely. (That our two protagonists accept a great deal of eccentricity may be another nod to their milieu.) From that point on, you expect to be surprised whenever it’s finally revealed who’s doing the killing, and you just may be, because the explanation comes out of absolutely nowhere. Then again, by that point, since the event around which the film revolves occurs before the opening credits roll, your only reaction may be a shrug.

why did i watch this movie?

The title of this one beckoned me with the throwback 1970s cinematic experience I was seeking.

should you watch this movie?

While it sounds as though at the very least it might provide some campy fun, or be a forgotten classic of taut suspense (or something), it’s really just a fairly boring low-budget flick with some extremely annoying characters.

highlight and low point

The absolute absurdity of the secret-passage sequence definitely qualifies it for one of these categories, if not both. Once the insufferable antagonist really finds his groove, he’s responsible for splendid pronouncements such as “The power of EVIL is always stronger than that of good.” The way a key detail eventually proves to be related to the mysterious goings-on is patently ridiculous. Oh, and Han Solo’s fate in The Empire Strikes Back is reminiscent of this picture’s underlying motif.

rating from outer space: c−

Lake Placid (1999)

Directed by steve miner
phoenix pictures/fox 2000 pictures/rocking chair productions

Only tenuously a “horror” picture – and only because it features a monstrous crocodile in an otherwise tranquil rural setting – this thriller/comedy/slapstick mashup is simultaneously way better than it should have been and much less than it could have been. It starts out with a ton of promise, with a witty showcase of screenwriting that manages at first to tiptoe with aplomb the extremely fine line between playing dumb and exposing banal inanity. This can’t last, of course, but it never devolves into lowest-common-denominator stupidness, even as it invests Betty White with a foulmouthed gimmick that exemplifies the law of diminishing returns. Not unlike Airplane! or, say, The Naked Gun, what it does best is wink at the tropes of several film genres, but unlike those broad farces, it generally avoids beating them into the ground. Unfortunately, the overall effect is slight and forgettable … though it somehow spawned FOUR sequels and a reboot (!), trailing in its wake the absurdist fare of SyFy and its ilk.

why did i watch this movie?

I’ve wanted to see it for a long time, and following the new Pet Sematary, it seemed apt. Plus, I wasn’t in the mood for any of the other crap terrific offerings in the pipeline.

should you watch this movie?

Despite boasting top-shelf attributes almost across the board, in the end it’s a little too disposable, a little too redolent of the brainless summer cinema it’s presumably lampooning.

highlight and low point

Brendan Gleeson is splendid as the Sheriff and Bridget Fonda’s fish out of water (sorry) is disarmingly ingenuous, highlighting the clever wordplay by TV veteran David E. Kelley. (That the parodic elements never exceed homage is another testament.) Momentum lags at times, and a few moments of unwarranted crudity surface.

Rating: B+

Pet Sematary (2019)

directed by kevin KÖlsch & Dennis widmyer
di bonaventura pictures

To its credit, here are some things this unbidden remake of an unloved movie doesn’t contain:

Song-and-dance routines
Postmodernism
Dragons
Folksy narration
Superheroes
A blaring “modern rock” soundtrack
Auto-Tune

That it also lacks any explanation for its existence is unimportant, since isn’t that the linchpin of the plot? The … CEMETERY PLOT? (creepy laugh)

Seriously, I have no idea why someone filmed “STEPHEN KING’S TERRIFYING NOVEL” again or why they made some of the choices they made in revising key elements (and some trivial ones as well, which is just odd). The exposition is rushed, the backstory truncated, and the voiceovers ridiculous. But credit where it’s due: once the dead little girl shows up, she’s really spooky. Altogether, however, it kinda feels as though someone had the idea for the final quarter of this flick, only to realize they’d have to adapt it to the existing framework. Is it “better” than the first go-round, probably. Is that any sort of quality claim, well …

No.

why did i watch this movie?

I had no intention of seeing this, but its schlock-ridden FINAL TRAILER defeated me. (Had I known its helmsmen also made 2014’s Starry Eyes, I woulda been interested much earlier. And greatly disappointed.)

should you watch this movie?

Hundreds of movies have yet to be made from heretofore unfilmed S. King output, and pix made from presumably original stories also abound.

highlight and low point

This flick is almost completely worthless until the dead little girl comes home. Then it’s not that bad, especially when she hints at an unimagined diabolical secret. The last scene is also pretty twisted. But extraneous distractions abound, some amateur touches provoke laughter instead of frisson, and the penultimate scene is largely shameful.

rating from outer space: D+

The Hole in the Ground (2019)

directed by lee cronin
bankside films/savage productions/head gear films/wrong men north/bord scannÁn na hÉireann (irish film board)

Seeming like folklore – almost literally an old wives’ tale – this slowly building story of maternal fear couldn’t help but remind me of 2014’s The Babadook, although the threat here apparently arises more from within than from a mythological creature. Truth be told, it also evoked vague thoughts of multiple other flicks, though I think that may be mainly because it works upon classical sources for our deepest horrors. Or something. Although the picture’s pretty engrossing, it does have holes almost as big as the one responsible for the title, even if some of them may not occur to you until after the fact. Largely psychological and atmospheric, it ultimately lacks for quite enough heft. Building a mystery is all well and good, but leaving some paths to trail off completely feels like misdirection, and results in the film’s resolution feeling unfounded.

why did i watch this movie?

This was the other film that made the cut after my perusal of the questionable streaming site mentioned in my review of 30 Miles From Nowhere. It’s another Irish production, which swayed me.

should you watch this movie?

It’s not as though it’s a total waste of time, but it needed a little bit more to recommend it, and it might feel kind of derivative, to boot.

highlight and low point

The extremely low-key manner in which Seána Kerslake’s Sarah deduces the truth about her son almost escaped my attention entirely, which makes it rather magnificently understated. A little too much goes unexplored or undeveloped, though, and when Sarah decides to get to the bottom of things – perhaps a little too literally – the pic reaches a nadir – perhaps a little too literally – from which it barely recovers.

rating from outer space: c−

 

Get Out (2017)

written and directed by jordan peele
blumhouse productions/qc entertainment

So, this movie is of course “about” racism – both overt and latent – and comprises an intriguing spin on the cannibalism of African American culture for pasteurized Anglo pastimes, along with a pointed recasting of some disgraceful historical practices. This is achieved without too often bashing the viewer over the head, and as a whole is a fine accomplishment. In these confrontational times of backlash against any and every real or imagined discriminatory slight, though, in an era when long-subjugated portions of the straight white male hegemony are claiming or reclaiming agency, how did it escape critical attention that the evillest characters in this film are the women? The two main female roles are imbued with a certain overwhelming rapacity and an equally manipulative bent, and hints of the same also affect more minor characters, portraying the fairer sex in a rather ugly light. This neither undermines the effectiveness of the film nor detracts from its observations and reflections, but seemingly highlights the fact that, well-intentioned or not, there are more than enough biases to be shared equally.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like something I’d enjoy, and with all the hubbub surrounding Us, I figured I’d better see it already.

should you watch this movie?

I guess it depends on your sensibilities. I myself thought it was excellent.

highlight and low point

Some foreshadowing is actually pretty funny, and is probably meant to parallel the audience-participation aspect of seeing horror flicks in the theater. The picture does contain some (pardon the multiple-entendre) black humor, but that doesn’t in any way suppress the creeping dread that develops throughout. The, uh, experiment at the root of the story is highly reminiscent of Blood Relations; other referents will no doubt occur to viewers at other times.

rating from outer space: A