The Old Dark House (1932)

directed by JAMES WHALE
universal pictures

This really happened: nearing the climactic point of this frankly rather goofy haunted-house yarn, I was thinking to myself, “this is kinda reminding me a bit of Burnt Offerings” … and almost immediately a character in the film says, “He wanted, he said, to … to make this house a burnt offering.” Based on a novel that’s claimed to be about “post-WWI disillusionment,” this picture concerns two groups of weary travelers forced by a cataclysmic rainstorm to beg refuge from, yes, an old dark house. (When the initial group knocks on the door, I expected Riff Raff to answer, of course.) From that point on it’s gothic intrigue and highly amusing characterizations, with a little passion and violence tossed in as seasoning. Can you ever judge an artifact such as this without seeing it through the filter of all that’s come since? Maybe, maybe not; either way, and irrespective of whether it’s the first horror-comedy, it’s a blast.

why did i watch this movie?

I came across a reference to the 1963 remake, which sounds terrible but piqued my interest in the original.

should you watch this movie?

It’s about 72 minutes long and easily accessible in the, uh, “public domain.”

highlight and low point

Ernest Thesiger as Horace Femm is worth the price of admission all by himself, and it’s informative to espy the genesis of the many references made to aspects of this adventure across multiple forms of visual media over the decades. (Such as the aforementioned Rocky Horror nod.)  It’s pre-Code, too – another reason I chose it – and there’s at least one exchange of racy innuendo that might surprise. For trivia buffs, it’s Charles Laughton’s first Tinseltown feature and allegedly the source of an unceasing enmity between Karloff and Whale.

rating from outer space: B+

C.H.U.D. (1984)

directed by douglas cheek
bonime associates, ltd.

Well, it’s obviously a disgraceful admission on my part that I didn’t see this the way it was clearly meant to be seen, on videocassette rented from the mom ‘n’ pop (actually, it was just “pop”) establishment down the street from where I lived as a kid. Or anytime since. Somebody should’ve told me it was this rewarding. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I never saw it, except that as a young person I didn’t actually watch many horror movies at all, and maybe because the title eliminates any suspense? Whatever the case, this is low-budget, low-grade horror at a peak, a Reagan-era relic of nuclear panic. Shot under the streets of NYC and laden with intransigent officials, it’s the gritty story of one plucky little guy’s quest to find out why everyone’s disappearing and a truly terrible battle plan hatched far too late to eradicate a horde of deadly mutants. And more! (It’s actually several guys.) Just today I had to defend my pronouncement that this flick is “good.” People, man.

why did i watch this movie?

I owed it to myself.

should you watch this movie?

Act now – don’t hesitate!

highlight and low point

Though this picture is ostensibly about hideous freaks coming outta the sewers, having been spawned there due to government negligence, what makes it enjoyable are the various interactions the normal people have. The scene where The Reverend initially spots the C.H.U.D. participating in what appears to be some sort of rite is intriguing, if scant. (More could have been done with it.) And as a former resident of New York City, I swear, when characters first start winding through the subway tunnels, I could conjure the smell. Now that’s olfactory memory.

rating from outer space: B+

Prophecy (1979)

directed by john frankenheimer
paramount pictures
a robert l. rosen production

Boy, does this one feel like a missed opportunity. Compelling despite itself for the majority of its running time, this cautionary eco-terror tale collapses drastically once the “monster” is revealed. Because it’s a bear. Sure, it’s an ursine that appears kinda acid-damaged (no, not that kind), but it’s a bear nonetheless. Which is quite a letdown, given all the Science-y gobbledygook promising mutations and devastation of the food chain and so forth, and renders this production not unlike a handful of other such endeavors about rampaging animals. Until that reveal, however, it’s an engrossing flick that works pretty well. The usual caveat applies about giving the details of the story too much thought. Especially those that are glossed over in the first place.

why did i watch this movie?

I had just finished the David Seltzer novel and felt it must have been filmed at some point. It turns out he wrote the script first.

should you watch this movie?

If you plan to, I’d recommend reading the novelization beforehand. It helps fill in a lot of backstory. Of course, it may also contribute to a feeling of disappointment with the screen version.

highlight and low point

The bear monster is supposed to be humongous – some of the promotional material specifies “15 feet tall” – and it isn’t. It’s, you know, bear-sized. Except when it’s smaller, because it’s a guy in a bear monster suit. Other than that, this picture’s biggest problem is that it pares away the relationships intended to give events their gravitas. The allusion to Minamata disease is indeed frightening, even if the source material fails to note the outbreak amongst First Nations people in Ontario, Canada, that must have inspired the proceedings.

rating from outer space: C−

Bats (1999)

directed by louis morneau
destination films

A typically dunderheaded nature horror predicated on an “accident,” this flick features not one believable element. You will not believe that Dina Meyer’s character is a bat expert with a Ph.D., you will not believe that Lou Diamond Phillips makes a creditable sheriff, “Leon” doesn’t even always seem to believe he’s supposed to recite his character’s lines, and you certainly won’t believe the BATS are real for even a second. In other words, it’s quite the enjoyable waste of time. The BATS, of course, “escaped” from some sorta experiment-cum-military project. (Maybe.) A wannabe Halloween blockbuster that somehow made money, it would’ve been perfect brainless summer fare. Oh, by the way, the predetermined ending isn’t believable, either.

why did i watch this movie?

I was in the mood for just this type of highbrow feature. Actually, by my standards, I was veritably giddy with anticipation.

should you watch this movie?

What ELSE are you doing?


highlight and low point

The BATS. Oh my my my, the BATS. Some are animated. Some are animatronic! Some are bat size. Some are, like, scary-movie-bat size. And once in a while, for effect I assume, one or two are the size of goddamn turkey vultures. Plus, the very first time the BATS kill anyone, they rip ’em to shreds. After that, they … don’t. These facts more or less encapsulate the professionalism imbued in this endeavor. Also quite humorous: the ongoing “hints” that the obviously nefarious scientific foil is concealing a dark secret. Stock military footage is thrown in for good measure, along with a rather remarkably turgid action sequence. Somewhat surprisingly, few overt attempts at comedy are present. But as Steven Wright observed, you can’t have everything – where would you put it?

rating from outer space: C+

Vultures (1984)

produced, written and directed by paul leder
star world productions inC.

An almost interesting exercise in what I imagine an Agatha Christie novel to be like – I must have read at least one, right? – this forgotten flick mainly suffers from a poorly established cast of thousands and a tendency to drag things out for way too long. This is particularly noticeable as it nears the ending but detours a few times before relenting and taking the exit. If they hadn’t been so damned serious here, they had the grounds for a terrific farce, at least, though I suppose that’s been done to death (sorry) as well. At a certain point, if only for just a bit, the mystery almost takes control, but it gets a little lost in the confusing welter of names and faces. The red herrings and the detective’s shaggy-dog pursuit wear on you after a while as well. But you probably won’t see the twist coming, exactly, even once you’ve noticed that something’s clearly awry.

why did i watch this movie?

Paul Leder directed I Dismember Mama, and that coerced me to try another one. Not sure why THIS one, though. (Neither can I recall where I found it.)


should you watch this movie?

Little information about this production exists. It’s often not unlike a madeforTV affair and it may have had more than one videocassette release. But I’m grasping at straws, really. Scant information is offered here. (Article contains spoilers.)

highlight and low point

Some (sorry to say) washed-up Hollywood also-rans pop in here, and Aldo Ray‘s appearance tops that list, as it’s barely a cameo. Yvonne De Carlo has a more substantial role. And why neglect Kipp Whitman. This film may possibly remind you of 1970s television.

rating from outer space: C+

Baba Yaga aka Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch aka The Devil Witch aka Kiss Me, Kill Me aka Black Magic (1973)

directed by corrado farina
14 luglio cinematografica s.r.l./simone allouche productions

Definitely the first film I’ve seen based on the erotically charged comics of Guido Crepax, this Italian tale of intrigue – and, you know, deadly puppets dressed in S&M gear that can manifest in fleshly human form – is, first and foremost, an examination of artful-nude studio photography vis-à-vis commercial filmmaking. And an attempted meditation on taste and the merits of artistic forms. Plus, of course, chic fashion, lots of chic fashion. Events never get very frightening, although the ending scenes contain some interesting and eerie moments, and the big reveal that sets them up isn’t without impact. The way things wrap up renders much of the story really kind of pointless, though because of the multiple erotic death dream sequences, at least you could toss “questions of conscience” into the list up above. Don’t know what to make of the Nazis or the other military imagery.

why did i watch this movie?

I mean, I saw the title “Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch.” I didn’t even know about the Crepax connection until the title cards showed.


should you watch this movie?

It’s amusing in a kitschy way, but apparently impossible to see in its intended form. (Footage that may or may not contribute to the film’s cohesion was excised without the director’s consent.) The version I watched contained some scenes inserted from work prints.

highlight and low point

There are dandy pseudophilosophical musings such as “If you don’t use the means that the system provides, what other possibilities have you got?” Mind you, the characters sharing this exchange are pretty far from revolutionary types. It’s also pretty moving when the pseudo heroine, Valentina, icily exclaims, “I couldn’t care less about … power and riches and your cosmic secrets!”

rating from outer space: C−

Come to Daddy (2019)

directed by ant timpson
nowhere/new zealand film commission/scythia/firefly films/blinder films

What seemingly begins as a relationship experiment – with hints vaguely reminiscent of the discomfort underpinning Creep – abandons that tack fairly quickly as it heads into somewhat more traditional territory. In this story of a man uncertainly meeting up with his long-lost father, it shouldn’t take one too long to spot the first plot twist as it approaches, and since the second one is closely allied, its revelation should follow appropriately at its heels. Afterward, the oddball is mingled with the ordinary, but the whole affair remains captivating throughout, never quite succumbing to becoming predictable. Near the end, there’s a chance for it to toss in a devastating conclusion, but this production is content with an enigmatic and cinematic finish. Once the effect wears off, as usual, if you give any of the happenings a second’s thought the whole construct collapses … so, as usual, you shouldn’t do that. This feature’s a font of black humor, indeed, so dark and quirky you may well miss some of it.

why did i watch this movie?

Intriguing trailer and strong buzz.

 
should you watch this movie?

It works for a lot of different reasons, and probes emotions and their attachments on many different levels.

highlight and low point

I don’t recall having seen Elijah Wood act before, though The Faculty is on his CV, so I must’ve, and Timpson was a producer of but otherwise uninvolved in 2015’s rhapsodic Deathgasm, so I didn’t have any preconceived notions about either of them. The direction was splendid and Wood’s performance is almost as profound, after taking a bit to establish itself. Some of the supporting cast tends toward excessively broad caricature at times, or is perhaps a bit too self-consciously outré.

rating from outer space: a−

Die, Monster, Die! aka Monster of Terror (1965)

directed by daniel haller
american international pictures/alta vista film productions

For the first half-hour or so, this sumptuously appointed fable seems as though it’s going to be a vastly rewarding romp through B-movie silliness, complete with Boris Karloff adding plenty of dramatic intrigue. Unfortunately, it soon descends into choppy pointlessness, though the inane and repetitious dialogue might bolster things for a while if you’re in the right mood. The story kinda feels cobbled together as it goes along, and even the requisite expository scenes don’t much help to clarify matters. A few startling moments crop up here and there, though only the first earns its reaction, and it goes nowhere. Based on “The Colour Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft, though how or why Arkham, MA, is transplanted to England is a question best left to others.

why did i watch this movie?

I found it under the title “Monster of Terror,” which … I mean, what more do you need? The presence of Boris Karloff and some glowing (pun definitely intended) nostalgia offered by commenters sealed the deal.

should you watch this movie?

I will table that question until I’ve watched a couple other filmed interpretations of the classic story.

highlight and low point

Boris Karloff’s clearly dissembling patriarch and his myopic assistant Merwyn are a hoot, and our hero Reinhart’s difficulties with the locals in Arkham set the picture up rather nicely. By far the best effects are achieved when Stephen and Susan are creeping downstairs in the dark guided by one lighted candle … which brightly illumines absolutely everything in the vicinity, and looks suspiciously like a spotlight trained right on them. Again, there are a few genuinely unsettling moments, but they’re wasted  – along with the lavish set dressing – by a flimsy screenplay.

rating from outer space: C−

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

directed by robert fuest
associated british productions ltd.

The sort of very British suspense film wherein almost nothing is revealed straightaway until very far along in the programme, where events suggest the audience’s guesswork is the main impetus, the most effective thing this production had going for it was that its tale of English ladies touring the French countryside exhibited no translation. Hence, the viewer was not to be informed of what the natives were saying, rendering that viewer as helpless – and perhaps as clueless – as the protagonist. Unless said viewer were to possess some command of the French language, that is, in which case he or she likely deduced where this case of mysterious identities and shifting suspicions would conclude. Pacing presented the major problem – though establishing a setting and a mood is important, those factors probably didn’t need quite so much development, especially in the interminably plodding final third. I mean, here’s the plot: A girl goes missing.

why did i watch this movie?

A while back I was scanning blurbs for ’70s flicks and saw this one described as an atmospheric something something with a chilling blah blah blah, and I was persuaded.


should you watch this movie?

I did not find it particularly noteworthy.


highlight and low point

I’ll tip my cap to the almost completely pointless diversion in the middle of this muddle, where the lead encounters a deaf war veteran in a farmyard of sorts, to no apparent purpose. It was also intriguing that for a movie contrived around birds on a bicycle trip, neither young lady seemed particularly adept at riding. The ongoing attempts to cast doubt as to the perpetrator’s identity eventually approached crisis proportions. A potent moment: when the whereabouts of the missing companion were revealed.

rating from outer space: C+

Skinner (1993)

directed by ivan nagy
cinequanon pictures international/5 kidd productions

Hey, betcha can’t guess the pathology of this movie’s title character …

Get this: he skins people! Like, no way, right!? Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to admit that despite some obvious shortcomings, this is a strangely effective independent horror, with a cast that includes Ted Raimi, Ricki Lake and Traci Lords. Right, it’s very ’90s – that’s one of the shortcomings. But there’s very little of significance to gripe about here, even if some of the picture’s more potentially symbolic fascinations go more or less unexamined. The ending really could’ve used a better (and less derivative) concept, and like execution, but after the title character has finally shown his inner self, so to speak, that’s forgivable. I cannot stress enough, however, that even were you initially unaware, you’d immediately be able to peg the era of release.


why did i watch this movie?

As a longtime scourer of budget bins of all stripes and a onetime video-store regular, I felt as though I’d neglected this title too often. And Ted Raimi, of course.

should you watch this movie?

After some thought, I’d have to classify this picture as being of the sort you’d likely find fairly interesting and enjoyable should you happen across it, but not one worth any arduous journey to experience.

highlight and low point

Ricki Lake is delightful, per usual, and David Warshofsky’s bootleg rendition of post-1987 Anthony Michael Hall amused me for no particular reason, as did the fact that his character is named “Geoff Tate.” (It’s irrelevant whether that was intentional.) The explicit scene where a prostitute is flayed is technically astounding. Traci Lords plays a character who for no
pertinent reason is perpetually underdressed. SHOCKING, I know.

rating from outer space: B