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−

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−