The Clown at Midnight (1998)

directed by Jean Pellerin
GFT/Paquin Entertainment

Purely by chance, this Canadian flick has Christopher Plummer in it (“and Christopher Plummer as Caruthers,” as his special mention warrants); I watched it shortly before he died, but I’ve been more than a little remiss posting anything lately (as you may have noticed), so I’m just trying to play ketchup here. So … there’s a collegiate acting troupe that inherits/inhabits an old theater, which just happened to be the site of an unsolved mystery involving its star opera performer … who, coincidentally enough, turns out to have been the mother of one of the students involved. (Imagine!) The death occurred following the final performance of Pagliacci, and, you know, the lore, and the urban legend, and the haunted performance space, and the deaths. You’ll probably be able to suss out most of the story before it ends, and as usual, it will help not to dwell too much upon it afterward.

why did i watch this movie?

Seriously, the title caught my eye, because it sounded odd. (“Clown at Midnight?” I wondered.) Then I saw it was Canadian, and I’m always for some reason interested in films of such origin. I suppose the credit “and Margot Kidder as Ellen Gibby” may also shed some light.

should you watch this movie?

It is really, really, really intent on breaking no new ground.

highlight and low point

A character or two has an almost-interesting quirk or two, and a not-insignificant portion of the underlying story might nag at you due to its inadmissibility. Or at least, it should, because … sheesh. I don’t wish to give away too much of the “plot,” but you will seriously begin questioning how the production team had the gall to stick with its story, so to speak.

Rating From Outer Space: C+

Mute Witness (1995)

written and directed by anthony waller
a buchman/claus/soentgen/waller production

A suspense-driven exercise in communication problems, this picture is in Russian and English, and its title character spends a lot of its duration desperately trying to stay a step or two ahead of what appear to be some murderous thugs and maybe a criminal conspiracy. Ah, but see, the main players here are all working on a film set, and can you really trust what you’re seeing? Or whether people really are who they say they are? Et cetera. Mordantly funny at times, and a little better than it deserved to be. Maybe the language barrier(s) helped?

why did i watch this movie?

The time-honored setup of the observer of a crime who cannot for one reason or another convince anyone what she’s seen, along with a recurring trend often encountered here of late, ye olde picture-within-a-picture gimmick, I suppose.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a bit of an oddball take, really, but the blurbs aren’t lying – there are extended moments of high suspense throughout. Past a certain point, exactly what the bad guys are up to gets a little unnecessarily complicated, but that’s hardly the focus anyway.

highlight and low point

I’ll tell ya what’s NOT a highlight, trying to determine who’s responsible for these multi-studio, triple-nation co-productions. The differing methods of connection used within, however, are kinda fascinating. Marina Zudina’s portrayal of a deaf-mute  is pretty convincing, at least as far as I could tell. (I was not actually comparing it with the deaf actors in either Soul to Keep or A Quiet Place, or even those playing deaf-mutes in the dialogue-free Mercury, but was instead weighing it against Jennifer Jason Leigh’s blind character in Eyes of a Stranger. Don’t ask me why.)

rating from outer space: B+

Frankenhooker (1990)

directed by frank henenlotter
ievins/henenlotter

Sometime in the ’80s, someone had the following idea for a movie: “So this guy, he’s, like, a science nerd, and his girlfriend gets chopped up by this souped-up remote-control lawnmower he rigs up for her dad, see, and then he invents supercrack and explodes a bunch of prostitutes and uses their body parts to, uh, make a new body for his dead girlfriend’s head, which he’s kept in this … estrogen-rich fluid.” When people lament the elements of life that “cancel culture” and its devotees are out to deny us, they’re forgetting that creations on the order of this one would be among those deprivations. And while we’d inarguably be poorer for lack of hybrids of films like Re-Animator and those released by Troma, the most commendable feature here is that it’s played more or less straight-faced, with a matter-of-fact tone, despite the increasingly ludicrous scriptwriting. (“There wasn’t enough left of you to fry an egg with” was a particular favorite line.) I dunno if exploitative sleaze is really that crucial a societal component.

why did i watch this movie?

It occurred to me that I’d somehow skipped this essential cinematic experience. I think I used to confuse it with other flicks, none of which seemed all that compelling.

should you watch this movie?

It’s fairly diverting, though it does seem pretty dated. Then again, it was proffered under the Shapiro Glickenhaus entertainment banner.

highlight and low point

If the pimp, “Zorro,” isn’t where the creators of Aqua Teen Hunger Force got the inspiration for “Carl,” well … that’s some sorta implication of a terrifying convergence. Main character Jeffrey’s plainspoken yet unhinged manner is oddly endearing, though you may have questions about his self-trepanation. Body horror – and perhaps gynophobia – ultimately reigns.

rating from outer space: B

The Night Flier aka Stephen King’s The Night Flier (1997)

directed by Mark Pavia
New Amsterdam Entertainment™ Incorporated/Stardust International Ltd./Medusa Film S.p.A

Based on an S. King short story I hadn’t read – it’s in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, the titles of which mainly don’t ring a bell, with the exception of “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” which I recall detesting – this archetypal B movie was financed by European concerns and tells a tale of Richard Dees and the tabloid “Inside View,” both names I will go ahead and presume you recall from The Dead Zone, by which I mean the novel, not the dreadful film adaptation directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken. The titular “flier” – and why the heck isn’t it “flyer,” anyway? – is a vampire airman going by the meta name “Dwight Renfield.” That’s it, that’s the story. With oh-so-subtle parallels drawn to the journalistic pursuit of. Some form of the twist ending you will likely foresee.

why did i watch this movie?

I wasn’t feeling the two pictures that formerly had been slated, possibly as a result of having just watched all nine “Episodes” of the Skywalker Saga triple trilogy, but I WAS in the mood for something based on the timeless works of S. King. The Under the Dome series wasn’t doing it for me and I had yet to discover the three seasons of Mr. Mercedes, so I went with this.


should you watch this movie?

If you’re an I’m-fine-sticking-with-basic-cable-and-terrestrial-channels type, go for it.

highlight and low point

The climactic scenes are pretty gratifying, especially given how ridiculous the vampire looks when finally we see its face. Some subsequent action even manages to atone for that. The rest is pretty standard low-budget middle-of-the-road mild
horror. It’s more of a character study, really …
which, you know, S. King.

rating from outer space: b−

Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)

directed by mark freed
noma productions

It wasn’t until I’d finished this redoubtable inanity that it occurred to me that “1991” seemed to be an inaccurate release date. Surely, I thought, it must’ve been filmed years earlier and languished until it found a video-shelf release date. Allegedly, however, it was committed to celluloid in 1990. Well, these folks must have been living in a wormhole or something, because it sure looks and sounds a lot more like 1988 or so. Splitting hairs, you might think – but wait until you see the fright wig “Angel” sports. “Angel,” of course, for some reason wants to join a horrible band with a singer wearing Richard Simmons’ castoff outfits, so he makes a deal with a voodoo queen (!) to become a demonic guitar hero or some such. Traci Lords plays the non-bimbo in the cast, and all you readers of “Hit Parader” from ye olden daze will be delighted to know that “Michael Angelo” is the stunt stand-in for all the SHREDDING. This is purportedly the last role on the long downslope of the career of blogfriend Aldo Ray.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded stupid as hell. But how, I wondered, would it match up with, say, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare or Black Roses, or even Rocktober Blood? And do I need a new hobby, or what?


should you watch this movie?

Somehow, someway, it’s actually watchable – acceptable, even. Maybe it’s even more tongue-in-cheek than it seems. Maybe it’s that self-aware. The songs, unfortunately (?), don’t actually approximate the hair era’s so-called “metal.”

highlight and low point

The production values basically don’t exist at all, though we are treated to green glowing eyes at times of … uh, manifestation. The band members cannot act, at all. The period decorations are choice.

rating from outer space: B+

Mimic (1997)

directed by guillermo del toro
miramax films

Now that I know this is a Guillermo Del Toro production – I mean, now that I know who that is, as I didn’t when I first saw this film – it seems so obvious. The bugs, the labyrinthine depths, the hokum religiosity, the brooding shadows. And the heaviness. Everything’s so portentous, all the time. But when you’re dealing with hybrid mutant DNA experiments threatening the very existence of man – nay, humankind – I guess that’s allowed. So come on, let’s get metaphysical. Personally, I always enjoy it when movies take advantage of the legendary lost/abandoned/forgotten/secret NYC subway stations. It’s like its own Atlantean fable at this point. But anyway, Mira Sorvino plays an entomologist who something something something the CDC and uh-oh now there’s a Rob Bottin creature creation. And a bit of a wannabe action flick besides.

why did i watch this movie?

As has been a burgeoning mini-theme lately, I saw this in the theater BITD, and had been meaning to recontemplate it ever since I screened that other Del Toro picture.

should you watch this movie?

It’s nothing too memorable, really.
(Hell, I didn’t even remember THAT.)

highlight and low point

Flimflam “science” is always good for a laff, and there’s a moment or two where the shivers might get to you, but overall this is kind of a trudge through the mundane … which is sorta remarkable, given that it concerns bioengineered insects that can convincingly portray people. Ms. Sorvino does not come across as a terribly convincing entomologist, though I will admit, I haven’t met any to whom I can compare her. The very final moments of touching humanity in this film are fraudulently cloying postproduction dubs. This version was the “director’s cut,” which okay, sure.

rating from outer space: C

The Relic (1997)

directed by peter hyams
pacific western, cloud nine entertainment, polygram filmed entertainment, marubeni, toho-towa, tele-münchen, bbc et al.

The sort of well-budgeted Hollywood horror thriller that eventually must become just another iteration of Alien, this vehicle for nobody in particular boasts, above anything else, a bland technical competence as its calling card. You can pick which stock character is your fave, but I vote for “the Mayor” (pun definitely intended) throwing his weight around as if “Chicago” is his personal fiefdom. You will recognize the outline: anthropologist mysteriously doesn’t return from an expedition, but a RELIC (which by the way has almost nothing to do with anything else that happens here) does, and then a creature you barely see for most of the picture slaughters a bunch of people, in the dark. WHAT’S the connection? WILL the day be saved? The End. Wait, let’s at least give ’em credit for not jamming in a subplot featuring a developing love story.

why did i watch this movie?

Long ago, I saw this flick in the theater, much as I did many of its ilk*, and I remembered almost nothing about it. For good reason, as it turns out.

*Species! Species 2! Mimic! The Faculty! It was the ’90s, man!
Creepy monsters were all around us!

should you watch this movie?

See that list of entities responsible for cobbling this feature together? That’s a focus group, and the result was this bland consensus.

highlight and low point

The most interesting thing about this production is how remarkably generic it is. From the opening scenes of the scientist’s “fieldwork” (featuring “natives”) all the way to the – “spoiler alert” – preposterous death throes of the mutant-DNA monster, it just follows the template. Through tunnels, and occasionally through glass.

rating from outer space: D


©1972 E.C. Publications, Inc.

 

Dark Waters aka Dead Waters (1993)

directed by mariano baino
victor zuev productions

So, this picture is both chock full of symbolism and laden with dream sequences, to the point where you might be excused for thinking it’s a Russian David Lynch flick. Now, I have mentioned repeatedly that I don’t usually get a lot out of symbolism, and it’s particularly true in a production such as this, wherein the signs and signifiers often aren’t particularly representative of anything. Instead, this film is mainly concerned with building and expanding on a mood, which it does effectively enough. Ultimately, though, it’s kinda silly, and good luck trying to decipher anything about the incomprehensible storyline. (Woman travels to remote location, discovers abbey rife with ominous intrigue while hoping to learn more about her childhood.) This feature probably should’ve held my interest better than it did, judging by its general critical reception. Mea culpa – it’s been a tough month.

why did i watch this movie?

Multiple sources insisted that this “atmospheric” offering possesses an enigmatic power or some such. I was leery, and held off for quite a while. I just kept seeing mention of it, though.

should you watch this movie?

You know what it’s “like,” really? A spooky old folk tale. With nuns and a demon.

highlight and low point

One hangup I will admit to is that I generally feel that if your flick is going to be laden with dream imagery, that dream imagery ideally will relate in some sense to the overall thrust. I did not feel that was the case here, and neither could I follow how the main character attained her revelation(s) of The Truth behind The Mystery. And while I may have had a hard time paying attention, I don’t think that’s why I was confused.

rating from outer space: C

El día de la bestia aka The Day of the Beast (1995)

directed by Alex de la iglesia
sogetel/iberoamericana films producciÓn/m.g. srl/canal+ (EspaÑa)

I’m not certain this Spanish production qualifies as “horror,” even if the plot consists of a seemingly fallen priest committing violent crimes in the hopes of negating the birth of the Antichrist. Alongside a slacker “death metal” adherent and a bullshit mystic television seer. On Christmas Eve. (The tale takes a little longer to cohere than that synopsis might indicate, or at least it did for me.) Although a bloody account, any terror involved is confined mainly to the implicit realm, or attributable to a mysterious roving gang destroying property and killing people while urging the authorities – presumably – to “limpia Madrid.” (“Clean it up.”) Drugs, semiserious bodily harm, mayhem and some second-tier FX complete the recipe. It’s fun, the comedy is deadpanned about as well as possible, and certain juxtapositions add just the right touch. Alongside the sacrilege. Make it a holiday tradition!

why did i watch this movie?

See previous entry, and sprinkle liberally with Luciferian intrigue. Plus, I’ve been learning Spanish for over a year, and every little bit helps.

should you watch this movie?

Where ELSE are you gonna see the Three Wise Men gunned down by police? (You don’t have to answer this question if you’re in the “United” States, for fear of reprisal.)

highlight and low point

This is no game. Ángel (the priest, of course) and José María (the ne’er-do-well metaller) make for a great duo, and the uneasy triumvirate they form with “Professor” Cavan also is fruitful. The intricate layers of symbols and references belie the film’s breezy, slapstick nature, as does what ultimately proves to be a rather somber final series of notes. Many, many aspects of modernist commercial existence are targeted for commentary, however oblique.

rating from outer space: B

Def by Temptation (1990)

written, produced and directed by james bond iii
orpheus pictures/bonded filmworks

It was difficult for me to sit through this, for two reasons not particularly indicative of overall quality, or lack thereof. One was the low-budget 1990s vibe, which … there’s a look and a feel to a lot of ’90s movies, particularly horror movies, that I find off-putting, and don’t enjoy revisiting. (That whole decade had a lot of aesthetic issues.) The other is I didn’t find the evil seductress character – allegedly irresistible to men – attractive, rendering that part of the storyline inscrutable. Then there were the peculiar edits, at times muddling plot points. That plot? Ancient evil targets family, for some reason. Strong points include the relationship between K and Joel, and many effective moments of humor. A thematic pivot also provides support. Unfortunately, a few instances that are presumably intended to be frightening instead come across nearer to camp. A mixed bag, to be sure, though it surprises me the auteur seemingly never did a whole lot of anything else. I mean, this production showed promise; surely he warranted another shot.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to balance out the recent spate of ’80s pix, and this appeared in that “Fangoria” book I mentioned. I really must vet my sources better, apparently.


should you watch this movie?

The type of feature perfect for basic cable, it’s coincidentally available on youtube in a version not unlike a USA Network edit.


highlight and low point

A hilarious and unexpected splatter of gore is eye-opening, and again, the interpersonal relationships really are finely limned. Too many would-be seduction scenes and a general lack of chills ‘n’ thrills slow things down a little too much, though. More than one scene features the boom mike.

rating from outer space: c−