Alone in the Dark (1982)

directed by jack sholder
masada productions/new line productions

Sometimes, I watch a movie and I just wonder how it ended up exactly the way it did. Take this flighty little number: It plays essentially like a PG-rated family comedy, but it also includes some vaguely gory killings, flashes of nudity, a mislocated but frightening hallucination, and, unexpectedly, the band Sic F*cks. And Jack Palance, and Martin Landau, gleefully overacting as two deranged asylum escapees. Fans of the original NBC-TV series The A-Team will be glad to see “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock as the patriarch of the family in peril, and general film aficionados possibly will enjoy Donald Pleasence’s turn as the loopy, stoned head of the psychiatric institution turned porous by a power outage. Amusingly, the family never actually seems to be in the dark, thanks to the marvels of movie lighting. (Hardly anyone’s alone at any point, either.) Overall, a strangely effervescent experience given the subject matter.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t recall exactly, but it’s possible the star-studded cast had something to do with it. It was described as being a lot more suspenseful.

should you watch this movie?

If you enjoy the way movies were made in the 1980s, as it’s very of that time. Change a few elements and it could have been almost any type of flick from its era. The “club” scenes, as always, are a bonus.

highlight and low point

Palance and Landau are highly entertaining, as is Pleasence’s understated performance, and the Sic F*cks were a treat (which ceased to be a mystery once I saw Adny Shernoff’s name attached to theirs in the credits). Drawbacks are a lack of commitment to the scare trade and what could be construed as tokenism in some of the stock characters.

rating from outer space: B

Massacre at Central High (1976)

directed by renee daalder
evan company

Remember how you lived in fear of those kids at your high school who went, uh, hang gliding? You know – the ones who pushed everyone around and trashed the library. Oh, and tried to rape those weird hippie girls, and so forth. (Boy, that one kid had the grooviest custom van, though, didn’t he.) It was just such a shame about the poor kid, and the deaf one, and the fat one. Well, turns out what your school needed was a good allegory, as this excellent teensploitation film proves. A precursor to other films – scenes and characters herein must have served as inspiration for such celluloid classics as Heathers – and a predictor of symptoms of cultural decline (a kid in a TRENCH COAT perpetrates most of the mayhem in the latter half ), this production never fails to entertain. You may wonder how that’s possible at times, much as you may find the motivation of a few of the characters inscrutable, but ridiculous or not, it’ll hold your attention. Possibly its metaphorical qualities deserve the credit.

why did i watch this movie?

My brother texted me a link to an inordinately long trailer, which I took as a request.

should you watch this movie?

Have you enjoyed films such as Blackboard Jungle, Three O’Clock High, Class of 1984, the aforementioned Heathers, others of that ilk? If so, assuredly. (And if not, I can’t help you.)

highlight and low point

This picture features a bizarre scene at an alumni dance in which none of the characters appears to be dancing to the same music, leading me to wonder if any music was actually playing during the filming. Also, the focal character is chewing gum in almost every scene in which he appears. This does not appear to be germane to the plot.

rating from outer space: B+

Split (2017)

directed by m. night shyamalan
blinding edge pictures/blumhouse productions

After watching this feature, I think I can better understand the opprobrium I’ve often seen hurled at its director in discussions of his oeuvre. Not that this is a bad movie, mind you; it does what it does fairly well, but it has a … credibility issue. I mean, I found myself not buying the central premise. At all. Don’t get me wrong; I am not denying the possibility of traumatic onset of multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder. The theory involved in this picture, however, takes pseudoscience directly into the realm of the comic book, in my professional opinion. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.) Furthermore, I usually am not seeking stories concerning supernatural physical characteristics or characterizations, such as found in superhero or -villain flicks. In addition, I found the scant inserts providing backstory to be both clumsy and stereotyped. THEN it turns out it’s somehow part of a trilogy-of-sorts – or a tripartite narrative, maybe. And it’s also a little too long, if only because it gave me time to realize all this.

why did i watch this movie?

I appreciated Shyamalan’s previous effort, The Visit, and noticed this one receiving positive attention on a few year-end lists.

should you watch this movie?

It’s interesting, but ultimately unbelievable. Upon further reflection, I think it’s supposed to attain that effect … but I think it would best serve an action/thriller audience, and it doesn’t have a whole lot of what generally is termed “action.”

highlight and low point

I would suppose the main attraction of this piece to be the leading performance by James McAvoy, which is presented as though one is to regard it as a tour de force and not a display of ham. The final movement is preposterous.

rating from outer space: c−

One Dark Night (1982)

directed by thomas mcloughlin
the picture company inc.

While it technically may be true that I’ve never personally been assaulted after hours in a mausoleum by psychokinetically controlled corpses , I think I safely can say that it wouldn’t seem as threatening in person as it does to several of the characters in this ’80s trumpery. The reason I state this with such confidence is that the dead (which appear to be wax dummies) are not reactivated or anything, they’re just being propelled slowly across the floor. That they apparently somehow manage to kill two people – by, uh, falling on them? – is a special bonus. The preposterous tale of a proponent of “psychic vampirism” experimenting in the manipulation of “bio-energy – the electromagnetic force in all living things,” this picture would be a complete failure if it weren’t so utterly absurd. As it is, it’s passable as kitsch … barely. The presence of Adam West helps in that regard, as does the fact that the dramatis personae largely are supposed to be portraying high-school students, which is patently ridiculous.

why did i watch this movie?

You know, scads of scare flicks have a similar “plot” as this one (the “spend a night in the mausoleum or equivalent for some reason” part, that is, not the telekinesis gobbledygook), so I may have chosen to start here because of the inspired title.

should you watch this movie?

The laughs one may get from the special effects are probably not fair compensation for enduring the hour and a half.

highlight and low point

The climactic scenes featuring the “attack” of the corpse puppets are hard to beat for sheer folly, but the director does not seem to have had much more skill in guiding the living cast members.

rating from outer space: d

Midnight (1982)

directed by john russo
independent-international pictures corp.

This delight’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got a weird Satanist family cult, it’s got a teenage runaway from Troubles At Home, it’s got Lawrence Tierney, it’s got a road-trip film contained within it, it’s of a visual quality usually associated with home movies from the dawn of time, and it’s got a fabulous theme song that is completely out of place in its grim milieu and sounds as though it’s from the wrong decade besides. Midnight is also strangely paced and edited, and could be a Christian message movie in disguise. Let’s see, what else … travel montages, black characters that seem as misplaced as the title song, a blatant ripoff of Psycho, and an extremely abrupt and unlikely ending involving rescue, redemption and revenge. Oh, and more of the rebarbative laughter à la the goons from Death Weekend. All told, an entertaining exploitation picture – and based on a novel! Which I cannot WAIT to read. The auteur was a colleague of George Romero.

why did i watch this movie?

The allure of a low-budget flick involving running afoul of the law and Satanists was too great to ignore.

should you watch this movie?

This is an exemplary achievement in its genre, so if a mishmash of simulacra – both horror and otherwise – filmed quasi-guerrilla-style over a weekend with minimal postproduction is your bag …

highlight and low point

The chorus of “Midnight,” allegedly by “Quintessence”:

You’re on your own, you’re all alone, you can’t go home … a-ny-more You’re on your own, you’re all alone and midnight’s at your door

The “backwoods” angle is trite.

rating from outer space: C+

it is easy to identify a Satanist

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

directed by rian johnson
lucasfilm ltd.

While technically not a horror movie, the moaning and wailing that greeted Episode VIII from its bereaved fanboys (and -girls) could have convinced one otherwise. Which, okay, I can dig where they’re coming from, as this installment plays for laughs more often than one might expect, obscures the franchise’s hoary catchphrase, and – heaven forfend! – introduces some new Ewoks porgs (and another animal species, which, uh, sparkles, besides). Honestly, I thought it had worse problems than that, but I’m endlessly fascinated by the Star Wars Universe, much the way I am by, say, the rock band KISS: No matter what they do, what they did was so epochal that I’ll keep reading about it and revisiting it. Disney, I think, knows this about its audience, which is why I have a hard time believing they’ll be wrapping this epic up after Episode IX, especially because that seems a difficult prospect at best given where The Reboot Strikes Back leaves us.

why did i watch this movie?

That cannot be a serious question.

should you watch this movie?

Well, if you’re a “Star Wars” type, you most likely already have, and if you are not, you probably won’t, and if you are new to this whole “Star Wars” thing, you should maybe start with “Episode VII.” So … you tell me.

highlight and low point

Jedi manages to stay entertaining for two-and-a-half hours, and this despite neglecting a few key characters just introduced in the last canonical segment. Luke’s divisive portrayal is an oddball key, a koan in action. Several scenes defy any and all acceptable logic, even given the disclaimer that they are occurring a long time ago in a nonliteral galaxy. With a magical spirit power.

rating from outer space: C

Fright (1971)

directed by peter collinson
fantale films ltd.

This title might seem a misnomer, as this mild-mannered British production does not provide its audience much in the way of chills or thrills. For characters in the movie, I suppose the moniker may be more apt, but many of the emotions on display are too restrained for such easy classification. Some anger is displayed, sure, and the young lass played by Susan George spends much of her screen time FREAKING OUT – her mewling, whimpering, sobbing, puling and so forth obscuring her Saxon patois till it’s all but incomprehensible at times – but all this really accomplishes is to annoy the living hell out of certain viewers, such as this one. This film actually is more or less a rumination on various mental states, and does not convey the sensation one reasonably might expect. It does, however, contain a few oddities. The police are depicted as almost comically inutile, seemingly by design, and a thought-provoking sequence involves one of them getting “the gun” out of its secure locked storage. Cultural differences! In addition, one of the characters is a toddler who seems sedated throughout much of his screen time.  Overall, the picture feels rather disjointed and haphazard.

why did i watch this movie?

I was scouring lists of pix I’d considered and could remember nothing about this one. I looked it up and thought, oh why not, 1971.

should you watch this movie?

Unless you want to catch an eyeful of some early ’70s ladies’ fashions, there’s no real reason to do that.

highlight and low point

The outmoded attitudes towards any variety of ideas or concepts, including but not limited to mental illness and a woman’s capability and/or agency, provide some food for thought. The ending is spectacularly unsupportable.

rating from outer space: d+

Hypothermia (2010)

directed by james felix mckenney
glass eye pix/dark sky films

Featuring the absolute worst creature costume since at least the embarrassing Howard the Duck, this production derails itself by punching above its class, so to speak. Ambition is a fine, fine attribute to possess, but man, if you do not have the budgetary capabilities to make your mysterious and deadly lake predator look like anything but a guy wearing a rubber suit, you might want to consider taking your script in a different direction. (This applies even if making low-budget horror is your backer’s stated goal – and specialty, in the case of Larry Fessenden, overseer of Glass Eye Pix and its ScareFlix subsidiary, whose banner flies over Hypothermia.) The ultimate shame of it is that aside from a few acting performances that aren’t quite professional grade, this little ice fishing movie had some potential. It’s also a little shy on running time and has a non-ending to rival any other you’ve ever seen. And, possibly, to “top” it.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded as though it would be the kind of schlock that is my general focus here. It was also low-rated, which I often find to be a compelling and effective lure. Pun intended.

should you watch this movie?

Although it isn’t the worst possible choice you could make, it doesn’t really distinguish itself in any honorable way.

highlight and low point

You don’t see too many movies with a focus on ice fishing, that’s for sure, and this one also has an admirable lack of sentimentality for its characters. On the other hand, the creature. The filmmakers try almost every trick in the book to disguise this egregious fault, too, but succeed only in calling  more attention to it.

rating from outer space: d-

May (2002)

directed by lucky mckee
2 loop films

Now here we have a bona fide black comedy. This is a dark, dark picture, but it is laced throughout with unmistakable pathos, and the escalation of terrible miseries suffered by the eponymous character produces a kind of shell-shocked humor. Certainly, very little in this movie is funny per se, but it lurches enough toward the absurd to make it matter. It would be hard to definitively describe this as a horror film, but in all honesty, I’m not sure what else it could be called, either, given the internally logical extreme it eventually reaches. Carried not only by its madcap premise – May has trouble making friends, let’s say – but by the outstanding title performance from Angela Bettis, it’s an engaging accomplishment. Which is not to say it’s for everyone. In fact, a sequence or two in the latter half had me watching from between my fingers, and I seek out movies like this on purpose. But it manages to tug at the heartstrings in between blows to the head, and even the hokey (and ultimately predictable) final scene couldn’t besmirch it too much. I can see why this was a critical success.

why did i watch this movie?

I really, really liked McKee’s The Woman, and as mentioned just above, this flick got good press and sounded like my kinda thing.

should you watch this movie?

I would describe it as an emotional investment, but with that advisory, yeah, I recommend it.

highlight and low point

Several of the roles are performed impeccably, particularly May’s, and the more overtly funny moments are pretty damn good. (One of which is also among the sadder moments.) After the long, careful buildup, the decline and fall happens a little too quickly, but it’s easy enough to accept given the circumstances.

rating from outer space: a-

Death Ship (1980)

directed by alvin rakoff
bloodstar productions ltd./astral films limited

Confession time: It will in no way be possible for me to describe in mere words this incredible movie, and trust me, when I say “incredible,” I mean it. What we have here is one of the most completely batshit cinematic wonders ever concocted. Just about every time I was convinced nothing could top what I had just seen, well, you can probably guess where I’m going with this. How even to begin … Loath as I am to provide spoilers in these reviews (or indeed, as you may have noticed, much relevant information at all), let me relate to you this movie’s plot. A cruise ship is rammed by an unmanned Nazi vessel that pilots itself and is apparently sentient. It’s also bloodthirsty. No, really, the ship needs blood. We know this because after former cruise ship captain George Kennedy is taken over by the evil spirit of Death Ship, he informs his would-be successor Richard Crenna, when revealing his/its plans to kill said would-be successor and his family. (This is ¾ of the way through; almost everyone else who survived the initial calamitous event has already been bumped off by D. S.) Luckily for me, I was watching a version of this insanity that was helpfully subtitled, so as to highlight the ace dialogue, and treating me to captions such as [almighty crash], [explosion], and my personal favorite, [faint sounds of torture and suffering]. Although assuredly unintentional, this film is nonetheless a laugh riot.

why did i watch this movie?

DEATH. SHIP. Also, George Kennedy – guarantor of quality.

should you watch this movie?

Oh my, yes.

highlight and low point

Have I mentioned the stock footage? Or the children? Have a sampling of the drama:

“Where do you plan to sail her?”

“Eternity, Marshall. Eternity.”

rating from outer space: +/−

oh, no!