The Ugly (1997)

written & directed by scott reynolds
essential productions/the new zealand film commission

What a deft accomplishment this New Zealand production is. With a setting straight out of the mundane – serial killer in asylum, being interviewed by psychiatrist – this nifty little low-budget film never settles for the industry standard, a directive it follows all the way through to the end. Piecing together fragments of the story as it proceeds – symbolically represented by events in the story itself – the question becomes how much of the killer’s version one is expected to believe. With its effects largely confined to jarring cuts and hazy flashes, and much of its overt violence glimpsed therein, an enigmatic aura is created and sustained. Though as the film moves past its climax it begins to rely a little too much on what may perhaps be manifestations of the mind of the madman, enough quirks and curveballs are presented along the way to avert predictability. The final scene is no exception. Interpretations may vary.

why did i watch this movie?

1990s. Saw some reviews or blurbs that said it was a little offbeat, and affecting.

should you watch this movie?

Aficionados of little-known horror flicks should definitely search for this one. Really, those who are more than casual fans of the genre would most likely appreciate it.

highlight and low point

The unique presentation of the material stands out, because – again – this is well-trodden territory, but it never quite feels that way while on view. The characterizations are interesting and not straight from central casting, as it were. The filmmakers also do a credible job despite very apparent fiscal constraints. On the downside, at times some deliberately outré details seem too intentional, and a few issues the script didn’t intend to raise might rankle a bit.

rating from outer space: A−

The Road Builder aka The Night Digger (1971)

directed by alastair reid
yongestreet productions/tacitus productions

Based on a novel with the unwieldy and unpromising title of “Nest in a Fallen Tree,” with a screenplay by Roald Dahl and starring his wife, this tale of suspense is very British, a study of drawing-room manners for the most part. Oh, but there’s a twist! Here we have a festering sense of resentment within the familial relationship that anchors the picture, a kinship upset and altered by the arrival of a young stranger. Now, some of what then occurs is basic dark British fodder; murders are perpetrated, suspicions are raised, and the village folk get to enjoy more of their favorite pastime (gossip, of course). Later, though, a murkier and more disturbing subplot develops, emotions are exploded, and the setting abruptly shifts entirely. An ambiguous ending completes the affair, which manages to entertain despite its lack of sensationalism.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to balance out the recent spate of ’90s flicks – and I’ve lately covered a bunch of modern productions as well – so I sought a picture from the seventies, and this was the one I found.

should you watch this movie?

This is the sort of film that TV stations used to show on lazy weekend afternoons, as very little of it is at all lurid. It’s good, if understated, and definitely of a different era.

highlight and low point

The action takes off when a mysterious young man named “Billy” enters the tale, and I think we can all agree that’s a momentous circumstance. Actually, though, some displays of splendid acting, mainly concerning liminal expressions of emotion, are what impress most. Oddly, it appears this was an edited version of the movie, but I’m not sure any other rendition is readily available.

rating from outer space: B

Els sense nom aka Los sin nombre aka The Nameless aka La secta de los sin nombre (1999)

directed by jaume balaguerÓ
joan ginard p.c./sogedasa

Am I DONE with these ’90s movies yet. (No! There’s one more still to come!) Here we go with more metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, this time involving some sorta evil-worshiping cult whose aim is to … uh … to produce a pure evil being. I guess. I kinda wasn’t paying very careful attention, having been distracted by fragmentary flashbacks (à la Haunts) that for some reason made me think of Jacob’s Ladder – while also being discomfited by descriptions of the baddies’ philosophy that veered a little too close to that espoused in Martyrs, a movie of which I do not wish to do much contemplating or revisiting. All the rest of it is police-procedural-horror-mystery mashup, occasionally leavened by the inelegantly dubbed (and somewhat inaccurate) dialogue, and abrupt edits that provoked thoughts of rerelease abridgement. And with all of THAT being said, the end note still is fiendishly sour … but by the time it’s sounded, it doesn’t reverberate enough. Alas.

why did i watch this movie?

Remember when I started my quixotic quest to catch up on scary movies from the 1990s? I made a looooooooong list.

should you watch this movie?

You have seen a lotta pictures very similar to this one.

highlight and low point

Some of the action involves the exciting world of print journalism, so that was a plus for me personally. The conclusion, though fairly predictable, was also a bit more twisted than expected, but also exemplified one of this flick’s biggest problems. The existence of the weirdo title sect is given little attention and next to no development, which robs the production of its best opportunity to strike chills in the hearts of mortals (or equivalent). All the lip service paid to Nazis and theories of EVIL and this-and-that is mundane wasted exposition.

rating from outer space: C−

30 Miles From Nowhere (2018)

directed by caitlin koller
film camp productions

I’ll admit I’m biased, but good writing has saved many a movie, and if you can add good acting on top of that, well, then you can get a lot of mileage out of a well-worn scenario. This quirky, offbeat indie comedy thriller is really more about its ensemble cast than its afterthought plot or minimal scares. Which is not to say it doesn’t keep one in suspense; it does, albeit mildly, but what this movie does better than anything else is establish one long setup for a sucker punch. Slight though the overall effect of this picture may be, it will impress you with its panache. A worthy diversion whenever you need a break from whatever the hell TV programming you watch.

why did i watch this movie?

I rather randomly wound up on some dubious streaming site and this title was hanging out there and I looked at the description and thought what the hey. An insight into my procedures: Six or seven flicks in toto were selected initially; only this and one other survived.

should you watch this movie?

I really wanna say this is a horror picture for the NPR crowd, without being able to define that very strictly, and not wanting to make this some sorta cultural football. But it concerns research psychologists, for crying out loud.

highlight and low point

Everyone in this film apparently is some stripe of known television personality, but as I pretty much only watch horror flicks and baseball, I did not recognize any of them. As hinted above, I greatly enjoyed the snappy dialogue writing, which managed the tricky feat of being highly literate without sounding forced or overly theatrical. And the performances were excellent across the board.

rating from outer space: B+

insignia found on film’s website

 

Skin Creepers (2018)

directed by ezra tsegaye
botchco films

I’m not entirely sure what kind of movie Botchco Films was going for with this one, and I suspect they may not have known, either. A scene or two notwithstanding, it’s not really fearful enough to be considered a true horror, its humor is often too subtle for it to be deemed an out-and-out comedy, and it doesn’t quite cut it as a hybrid, either. Plus, there’s sort of a weird noirish angle going on, too. Despite the misgivings such observations might engender, however, when you consider that the plot of this film concerns the principals of a company called “Botchco Films” trying to make an ethically questionable, budget-challenged movie with a performer who may or may not be from the adult-film world – and continually debating the related semantics of their predicament and their art – it should seem more inviting. And one of the characters winds up literally in Hell, so there’s that. Though no particular angle suggests itself as the driving impulse behind this concoction, maybe the meta nature of Botchco Films including itself in its fictional world is just that purposeful. Whoa, man, deep.

why did i watch this movie?

C’mon, admit it, you’re wondering what “Skin Creepers” means, too. German picture, self-referential description, comedy/horror, why not.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a little lightweight, to be honest. And strangely enough, it kinda reminded me of Jim Jarmusch flicks from time to time. (Speaking of which, The Dead Don’t Die.)

highlight and low point

The banter between the producer and the director is really pretty entertaining throughout, and their general haplessness is also amusing. Given the subject matter, though, the production is a little too tame for the most part, apart from one particularly gruesome effect. A sneaky twist ending comes unforeseen, which was appreciated.

rating from outer space: C+

Splatter University (1984)

directed by richard w. Haines
richard w. haines productions/aquifilm co.

I guess I gotta admit that this objectively terrible movie is right in my wheelhouse, because although it’s completely, laughably awful, I can’t bring myself to pan it outright or consign it to the trash heap with some of the others I’ve slagged around here. But make no mistake – it’s not good, at all. The murder scenes are almost all exactly the same: character opens door, character sees knife brandished by unknown attacker, character gets stabbed in the abdomen, character dies. (The identity of the killer is easy to deduce, as well.) Many if not all of the characters are ridiculously exaggerated stereotypes, and attempts to portray “campus life” are in a similar vein. The only reason I imagine anyone would want to watch this movie is to remember a bygone era of moviemaking. The DIY ethos that the seventies made necessary in many areas of the arts was of considerable value … even if the artifacts it produced may not have been.

why did i watch this movie?

Hey, man …

should you watch this movie?

This picture was largely filmed in 1981, the credits at the end seem to read “1982,” and Troma eventually released it in 1984. Its entry on Horrorpedia includes the director’s explanation that to make it feature-length and “marketable,” a new beginning and ending were grafted onto it along with the abysmal attempts at wacky collegiate humor.

highlight and low point

As the credits rolled, I noticed the name “George Seminara” and thought, wait, the George Seminara? Yep, that one. The names of the Three Stooges are borrowed for character monikers, which amused me. Oh, and the lead role is played by “one of the most sought after female keynote speakers in the country.”

rating from outer space: d−

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

directed by jeff burr
republic pictures/steve white entertainment

So, one of the actors in this picture was driving me nuts with his strained, nigh-unintelligible gibbering and his painfully restricted movements, and I just HAD to find out who he was … and it turned out to be Crispin Glover’s father, who purportedly is also an acting teacher. So I definitely learned something from this hokey, by-the-book bit of B-grade nonsense. Just about every cliché in the book is hauled out here – estranged daughter returns to small town! Her dad’s the mayor! She hooks up with the hot local guy! There’s trouble! And an ancient curse! Or something! – with the only novel touches being a few of the ways the, uh, demonic scarecrow kills or maims his victims. It’s entertaining, really, but man, is it ever generic. Which ceased to surprise me once I discovered that the director also was behind the camera for the equally uninspired Leatherface.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like a hell of an improvement over the previous strawman-themed picture I viewed. I thrilled to the prospect.

should you watch this movie?

It really isn’t the type of work one should watch on purpose, unless it involves nostalgia for the heartland fetish of decades long past. (Today’s politicized heartland fetish is different.)

highlight and low point

The evil possessed scarecrow is a kind of highlight, I guess, and the flashback scenes are endearingly slapdash. The ridiculous caricature of the extended family would have to be seen to be believed, and the backlot politics implicit in the details differentiating the women’s roles seemingly would’ve been intrigung. Overall, however, this one feels as though the script was churned out in little more time than it takes to watch the finished product.

rating from outer space: C−