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−

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−

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−

Kolobos (1999)

directed by daniel liatowitsch and david todd ocvirk
armitage pictures

This indie flick started off terribly and I was all set for major disappointment, but it picked up fairly nicely after that – until a certain repetitiveness of a key theme began to wear on me during the middle of the action … and ultimately led into an unfortunate, cut-and-dried resolution. But although that end result felt compromised and was more than a bit of a letdown, getting there turned out to be pretty interesting anyway – despite the fact that not very much about this production could be called “original.” Some strangers agree to live together in a house for some reason or another, carnage ensues, and so forth. There’s a supernatural element, or IS there. Which character(s) can’t be trusted, and why. Did it really happen. You get the idea. At times, however, it’s very nearly professional, and with a little more ingenuity could’ve been pretty special.

why did i watch this movie?

When I was compiling my list of 1990s features, this one stood out because of its unaffiliated nature and a description that made it sound a lot more challenging than it proved to be.

should you watch this movie?

If you enjoy very independent horror pix, sure, why not.

highlight and low point

After the excruciating opening scenes, the writing got a lot better and the characterizations matured. Despite some stock setups – oh, hey, the power went out, imagine that – effective tension was maintained for the majority of the runtime. I enjoyed a bit of a Killbots vibe that unexpectedly surfaced (perhaps probably unintentionally). The overly predictable cop-out ending didn’t help matters much, but the fake horror movie series embedded within the storyline (“The Slaughterhouse Factor”) was a nice touch.

rating from outer space: B−

Cronos (1993)

written and directed by guillermo del toro
producciones iguana/ventana films/consejo nacional para la cultura y las artes/instituto mexicano de cinematografÍa/universidad de guadalajara/calidad cinematogrÁfica

Del Toro’s more widely known productions often invoke the term “fantasy,” but as I usually avoid anything with that description, it’s a good thing for me that enough macabre elements comprise this film for it to pass muster. Essentially a tale of the attempt to subvert the natural order of things, its tone throughout matches most of its set pieces for darkness. Structured not unlike a classical tragedy, both its vision and theme are somewhat morbid and fatalistic. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at the outset, but overall it proved to be a captivating work. Alchemy, an antiquarian, magical Renaissance artifacts, vampirism, resurrection (of a character named Jesus, of course), attempts to cheat death, death, murder, attempted murder … and a little girl named “Aurora.” Which certainly couldn’t be symbolism.

why did i watch this movie?

I constructed a long list of ’90s movies to watch, and made sure to include this one because it was Del Toro’s debut feature.

should you watch this movie?

A wealthy dying man seeks a mystical device to prolong his existence, but someone else has already succumbed to its seductive powers. Struggles ensue. 94 minutes. Subtitled.

highlight and low point

It highly amused me that this flick contained elements or motifs of the only other Del Toro works I’d seen: insects and the insectile (1997’s Mimic), and Ron Perlman (2004’s Hellboy, which terrestrial television often used to show in the wee hours during a period when I was both chronically underemployed and overly intoxicated). More attention could have been paid to the history of the mysterious device, and how one of the parties got hold of its instruction manual. Indeed, character development is not this picture’s strength.

rating from outer space: b+

Jack Be Nimble (1993)

written & directed by garth maxwell
essential productions limited/new zealand film commission

Wow, what a strange movie this is. Though one never expects an original take when dipping into genre offerings, this New Zealand picture is playing entirely on its own field. And what a field it is … the polar opposite of a “feel-good” film, this neverending litany of miseries only lets up at the very end, with a seemingly tacked-on segment that feels suspiciously like an afterthought, but which instead may not have been meant as a representation of reality. Sometimes it’s rewarding when you finish a viewing wondering what in the hell you just watched, and this feature manages to provoke that same sense of confusion and intrigue throughout its duration. I mean, I had no idea where this one was heading – and given its overall bleakness and the uncomfortably horrific final scenes, I’m fairly glad about that.

why did i watch this movie?

This is another product of the 1990s, and I was lured in by the odd name and convinced by its description as a unique, psychological offering.

should you watch this movie?

Powerful in several different ways, it’s quite an experience if you’re looking for a less typical horror picture, fraught with emotional turmoil. It is not an easy watch.

highlight and low point

Though obviously one must suspend one’s disbelief for certain elements of a picture steeped in the paranormal, the conflict in this flick relies on its grounding in related phenomena without an apparent link or any explanation whatsoever. It’s just sort of dropped in there: oh, by the way, this can happen, too. Since most of the variant otherworldly or mystical manifestations are given at least some backstory, that slight is troubling. Alexis Arquette and Sarah Smuts-Kennedy play long-separated orphaned siblings very believably.

rating from outer space: a−

Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

directed by brian yuzna
wild street pictures/re-animator iI productions

Even before the extravagant reprise of the first film’s opening credits sequence, I feared that this picture would be too obviously a sequel, as all the signs were there. Indeed, moments of one-upmanship pertaining to certain effects, scenarios and locations are present throughout, but the director mostly manages to evade scenes of blatant repetition and also avoids the cardinal sin of reductionism. Even so, at moments it threatens to get a little too cutesy, the parallelism to Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t quite work, and the inclusion of Dr. Hill’s head at times feels forced (and for a while appears to have been forgotten). When things really get dicey near the ending, however, it is about as uncomfortably eerie and threatening as one could reasonably hope from a Lovecraft adaptation, and it succeeds, humor and all. I did not expect this one to be this good – and maybe it isn’t – but Jeffrey Combs delivers enough of a tour de force to make fine assessment meaningless.

why did i watch this movie?

The original was terrific, and I’m still catching up on the 1990s.

should you watch this movie?

Respectable or not, it IS a sequel.

highlight and low point

The portrayal of Herbert West, as noted above, is splendid, and one observation he deadpans in the latter portion of the flick is laugh-out-loud funny.  Bruce Abbott and Claude Earl Jones also deliver worthy performances. Strong motivation is lacking on behalf of many of the characters, though, and if you’re not caught up in the zaniness, you might begin to see right through the flimsy premise.

I mean, presuming you’d be of a mind to take a production of this nature that seriously.

rating from outer space: B+

the credits thank “Mary Wollenscraft Shelly”

(and Tenzing Norgay)