Nattevagten aka Nightwatch (1994)

written and directed by ole Bornedal
thura film/danish film institute/danmarks radio

This melodramatic Norwegian thriller unspools very slowly, a study of the intertwined and dissipated lives of two college friends and their girlfriends. Martin, a law student, takes a late-night watchman’s job in a mortuary; his friend Jens seems mainly intent on drinking and causing problems. Meanwhile, a killer’s on the loose. INTERESTING, isn’t it. Little development of the story takes place until very late, at which point we are intended to wonder which of the main characters we are supposed to distrust. The requisite twist is effective enough, as it’s nurtured and revealed with subtlety, and it’s only somewhat after the fact that one realizes one could drive a goddamn truck through the very significant hole in the plot. The movie ends in laughter – on the screen, I mean; it has a happy ending. Bornedal remade it three years later in English.

why did i watch this movie?

This is yet another title I’ve mulled over many a time. I went ahead with it because it’s a ’90s production, and from Scandinavia.

should you watch this movie?

This is not the film to watch if you demand a lot of exciting action, though eventually significant unease does mount.

highlight and low point

An excruciatingly uncomfortable scene in a restaurant bests a similarly embarrassing moment in a church, and the unraveling of the mystery at the picture’s heart is downplayed to such an extent that its solution is presented in a winningly matter-of-fact sequence. Wondrously anticlimactic, it is. In the main role, Nikolaj Coster Waldau did not impress me much as a thespian. I mentioned the inexplicable plot issue, which is nearly as bad as the one that derailed the otherwise excellent Haute tension in 2003.

rating from outer space: B−

Blood & Donuts (1995)

directed by holly dale
daban films/the feature film project

Wow, what an unexpected delight this obscure little Canadian venture turned out to be. An extremely quirky vampire story, this picture succeeds on the basis of some finely attuned performances and bizarre character studies. The minimal sets and locations only help the cause. It’s really more a comedy than a horror story, although given the heavy-handed tactics employed by a couple of thugs who are muscle for a local crime boss (played by David Cronenberg), some scenes are violently uncomfortable enough to pass muster. Oh, and there’s a multifaceted love story going on as well, so hey, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to watch another ’90s movie, saw this title in a list and couldn’t resist.

should you watch this movie?

A film this enjoyable should not be this obscure.

highlight and low point

Well, the location credits include “The Sea of Tranquility, The Moon,” for one thing. Justin Louis as Earl the taxi driver is absolutely terrific, his skeptical take on his life and everything in it only augmented by his unplaceable accent. Helene Clarkson as donut girl/Nick Cave doppelgänger Molly is equally enjoyable, with her lousy attitude gradually revealing hidden depths of emotion. Frank Moore and Hadley Kay as the thug duo rival those performances as well. I guess what I’m saying is the acting on display here is top-shelf. Some of the FX work – the vampire transformation makeup – isn’t particularly convincing, but it’s used sparingly, so it doesn’t detract much. And while I suppose one could find fault with various aspects of the climax and resolution, it IS a vampire picture, so that may be a bridge too far, you know? Plus, the foreshadowing!

rating from outer space: a−

Event Horizon (1997)

directed by paul anderson
golar productions/impact productions/paramount pictures

I’m allowed to say I’m not impressed by the résumé of a guy who mostly makes video-game movies, right? ‘Cause, see, the thing is, I don’t give a fig about video games, or gaming, or anything related to video games and gaming. Know what else apparently doesn’t interest me much? Space horror …  at least of this ilk. This movie is basically The Shining-meets-The Thing on board the Nostromo. Everything that happens in this movie happens in every other movie like this one. It coulda used Jason Voorhees, or at least a wisecracking robot.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to watch something from the ’90s again, and SOME people I know have a soft spot for this production, so I gave it a shot.

should you watch this movie?

If you’ve seen enough space terror epics, you already have, man, you already have.

highlight and low point

Okay, like, I have a really hard time suspending my disbelief, you know – which I grant is kinda ridiculous given that I watch all these pictures that aren’t exactly grounded in reality – and a certain sequence in this film absolutely could not happen, for any variety of reasons. (Note: I am not talking about the obligatory “people manage not to get sucked out of a spaceship despite a breach in the hull” scene; at this point, one learns to expect this trope, and rolls with it.) Now, sure, you wish to note that this production concerns a spaceship that can generate its own black hole in order to bend/fold/spindle/mutilate space/time, so neither could any of the rest of it, and you’re right, you’re right, and … and where in the hell was I?

rating from outer space: c−

Body Snatchers (1993)

directed by abel ferrara
a robert h. solo production

Well, I was certainly unaware they’d ever made this adaptation of the hoary classic. A thoroughly modern retelling – circa its ’90s setting – it’s mostly unnecessary, and though it tries to evoke the kind of slowly dawning realization that humanity is doomed (DOOMED, I tell you!) that pervades the original and its 1978 remake, the moment is effectively subsumed by the bitchin’ revenge sequence, and not reinvigorated by the predictably ambiguous ending. I will give it credit for engaging in some action that would totally not pass muster in these jingoistic times, but not for underutilizing Meg Tilly. Too slick and stylized, in the then-modern mode of a moody music video, and with its suspense consistently undercut by the ease with which one can identify who the good guys are. Not too sure why somebody thought this was necessary.

why did i watch this movie?

First, I was all like, wait, they made another version of that? And then I noticed who directed it.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a curiosity and nothing more.

highlight and low point

Along with featuring its heroes blowing up Army bases and troops, another little wrinkle that would be a no-go taboo today is that although Gabrielle Anwar’s character in the story is 17, she has a nude scene. I guess the most affecting parts of the flick rely on the barely explored family tensions, because surely the unexplained existence of the now-aquatic pods and the largely ignored military hierarchy don’t carry much weight. How the replicated humanoids detect and alert their kind to the existence of humans in their midst is completely laughable and generically evocative.

rating from outer space: C−

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+

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+

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−