Nightmare aka Nightmare(s) in a Damaged Brain (1981)

written and directed by romano scavolini
goldmine productions inc.

Despite some questionable casting choices and unconvincing acting in several minor roles, this curiosity is actually a serious study of derangement and childhood trauma, murderous impulses and psychosis, a story of a mental patient who escapes and heads south. Grisly and graphic, it features a helluva shock early on and never settles much into complacency. Unfortunately, the saga drags a bit as it proceeds, especially when it focuses on the obnoxious children of a dysfunctional family. (Mom is little better.) The ending is unnecessarily confusing, especially as it shouldn’t be, due to an inexplicable – and uncharacteristic – refusal to let the camera linger.

why did i watch this movie?

Notorious in its day, it fit a bunch of my usual touchstones.

should you watch this movie?

“You lose a dangerously psychotic patient from a secret experimental drug program, and all you can say is ‘I’m sorry’? … Paul, you believed in these drugs and – you rebuilt this man and you did put him back out on the street, but now –he’s out there killing people, and we can’t have that.”

highlight and low point

The insanely over-the-top initial murder scene has to top this list, but many other aspects of this production might jostle for position. Baird Stafford’s portrayal of the disturbed lead is unsettling, one particular murder is disconcertingly realistic, and the director doesn’t scrimp on now-amusing portrayals of computer analysis OR graphic shots of female pudenda. (Times Square peep shows.) The lines quoted above are spoken by a character played by the producer, so perhaps unsurprisingly, the production paradox rules here: one might think this film would have been better were it more professionally accomplished, but any such consideration probably would have denatured it too much.

rating from outer space: B−

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−

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

written and directed by christopher landon
blumhouse productions

Okay, so, many/most of the same characters from the initial offering appear in this chapter because it reprises some key events, and increases the ramifications of the whole time warp thing. With a clever twist, of course. But in the tradition of sequels, it’s ramped up to service an unforeseen plot development, this time with dialogue noting storyline similarities to Back To the Future Part II. If that sounds dismal, you may be heartened to learn that it basically works despite those compromising factors, though I’m not sure it qualifies as “horror.” A little uneven, a little convoluted, and possibly a little too long, but the first half or so is good enough to make it worthwhile.

why did i watch this movie?

Its existence bade me rethink skipping the first one.

should you watch this movie?

As mentioned, it’s less frights, more Doc-n-Marty than the original.

highlight and low point

SO, this picture cost around 9 million USD to make, and has grossed at least 64 million USD to date … which considerably dampened studio interest (read: Jason Blum) in producing another. (Think about that the next time you watch some big-budget piece of absolute garbage from Hollywood.) Anyway, the biggest issue this flick has besides general superfluity is that it gives short shrift to what is a fairly important topic, that of the so-called “butterfly effect.” See, it becomes kind of a thorny problem to figure out why only certain details change when Tree is otherwise allegedly reliving the same day over and over again. That concept is introduced and then immediately forgotten for the rest of the film. Personally, I vote for a third part to be made – as a bleak existentialist drama. Take that, profitability.

rating from outer space: b−

La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla Tomba aka The night Evelyn came out of the grave (1971)

directed by emilio p. miraglia
phoenix cinematografica roma s.p.a.

I don’t know about you, but with a title like this one, I found myself expecting a shoddily filmed 76-minute exploitation picture about vengeful undead … so in a sense I was sorely disappointed by this lavish Italian epic of misdirection and aristocratic shenanigans. I was NOT disappointed, however, by the fact that this film delights in trying to live up to the finest tradition of the giallo (the literal translation of which is “doesn’t make a lick of sense”*). But I WAS disappointed that everything resolves itself in a fairly straightforward manner. Of course, at least one major loose end isn’t even addressed, so that redeems matters somewhat. As for Evelyn and her grave, don’t even ask about that. Trust me.

*untrue

why did i watch this movie?

 I was perusing a website from which I download music, and someone posted this extravaganza’s soundtrack. I had to know more, what with the name and all.

should you watch this movie?

Though mildly diverting, it really doesn’t deliver the goods, as it never commits itself enough to do so. Hey, that’s a mild pun, as the storyline concerns the main character’s mental condition!

highlight and low point

Okay, seriously, a really good movie could have been constructed out of this muddle. Unfortunately, that’s not the movie they made. For instance, one or more characters is revealed not to be what he or she seems to be – but these revelations are irrelevant to anything that subsequently occurs. And once all the confabulations are sorted, it’s not unlike any standard episode of any crime or detective drama. Erika Blanc‘s role isn’t substantial enough, although her character’s disreputability compensates somewhat.

rating from outer space: c−

you keep this by your pool, too, right?

Without Warning (1980)

directed by greydon clark
a greydon clark production/heritage enterprises

The kind of movie that plays as though it was made for TV, this tale of inscrutable attack by unknown airborne sources is likable enough, though it can’t offer very much in terms of thrillng, fast-paced action. Really, this is the sort of eerie offering that would suffer greatly with the advent of the slasher craze. It also suffers greatly from some narrative confusion, although I will be honest and tell you that doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. (You’ll catch on.) As is often the case in films of this ilk, much of the tension and action is generated by the interactions between the townfolk and the kids with the crazy story and the few strange locals who might be inclined to listen and might just know something, and so forth.

why did i watch this movie?

I can’t tell you it wasn’t because the title didn’t make me not think of this number.

should you watch this movie?

Highly redolent of its era, it also seemingly harks back to SF films of the ’50s. It did not have much of a budget. I do not seem to be answering the question.

highlight and low point

Though his character eventually wears out his welcome, Martin Landau invests his PTSD-laden “Sarge” with much conviction, and as “Sandy” and “Greg,” two actors who wouldn’t find much work past 1982 (“Tarah Nutter” and “Christopher S. Nelson,” respectively) do a reasonably convincing job. This is also future NYPD Blue/CSI: Miami star David Caruso’s first credited role, albeit a disposable one. Some of the creatures deployed are more amusing than frightening, though they do lead to the wondrous exclamation, “It’s eating the windshield!”

windshield, being eaten


rating from outer space: C+

Happy Death Day (2017)

directed by christopher landon
blumhouse productions

Yeah, I didn’t go into this flick expecting a lighthearted feel-good romcom, but that’s kinda what’s wrapped up somewhere in its gooey, nougat-filled center … along with a whole lotta other stuff. If that sounds unduly negative, I apologize, but this film really has a little bit of everything in it. And of course it’s self-aware enough to note explicitly that its storyline sounds a whole lot like that of Groundhog Day, saving me the trouble of having to point it out. (Personally, I didn’t make it through the latter picture. Maybe it needed some slasher scenes.) Social conscience, coming-of-age, inclusion, check check check. This is one proudly progressive kill-crazy fright flick, I tells ya. I am extremely discomfited to note that the sequel contains many of the same characters (some of whom should, finally, have been dispatched).

why did i watch this movie?

I had no intention of eyeballing this production until its sequel appeared and I noticed this one had gotten a lot of positive ink.

should you watch this movie?

The whole “Groundhog Day” aspect may nag at you a bit, but as I note, they (eventually) address that. Not your traditional horror, but worth it in my esteemed opinion.

highlight and low point

The humorous touches are well played, and the main character’s wavering demeanor deteriorates nicely as events continue to recur. Of course, I enjoyed greatly that the dorm wall we see most often proudly displays posters from not only They Live but Repo Man (and Back To The Future Part II, but just ignore that for the nonce). The mass-produced-mask-wearing killer isn’t the most original concept, but I’m not altogether sure it’s not intended for meta effect. Attention to detail is laudatory.

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−