Smile (2022)

Written and Directed by Parker Finn
Temple Hill Entertainment

Don’t misconstrue what I’m about to say – but this film was kind of a letdown. See, it has one of the most effective and audacious pre-title sequences of anything I’ve seen any time recently (or ever), the kind that left me babbling aloud incoherently. If the entirety could somehow have sustained that, well, it would’ve been an all-timer. It couldn’t, of course, and so it isn’t, but regardless of its well-noted weaknesses, this picture remains an effective and intense depiction of one woman’s deteriorating mental space (and relationships, and existence). That there were many possibilities for what direction this production could have gone added to its impact, even if the route it chose was less than satisfying … though that’s open to interpretation, befitting the story. Feel free to ascribe to it your preferred symbolic framework.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I saw a commercial for it – you know, with the creepy woman. That’s all it took. Sometimes I’m an easy sell.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

Those who are less forgiving than me may find it too derivative at times, or too predictable at others, and yes, it leans very heavily on jump scares. (Despite all that, it sustained my interest.)

HIghlight and Low Point

I don’t think it’s out of the question that this pic could be read as being all in its protagonist’s mind – and indeed, it seems as though the filmmaker wants to encourage that suspicion with his prolific use of skewed or inverted camera angles. (Upside down equaling CRAZEE, etc.) The main character’s name is “Rose,” and when she finally meets the EVIL in its penultimate form, it looks a lot like “Marilyn Manson.” You can call that a coincidence, sure.

Rating From Outer Space: B−

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Directed by Damiano Damiani
Dino De Laurentiis Corporation

Ordinarily I have some inkling of how to start these pieces, but I confess, for this title I am somewhat at a loss. A prequel-of-sorts before such a thing became to a degree de rigueur for the horror film franchise – and not blameless in the rise of the horror film franchise itself, come to think of it – this ridiculous would-be epic shamelessly borrows from its, um, successor while also brazenly aping The Exorcist (or any of its already plentiful ripoffs). Along the way, it manages to toss in some hilarious disrespect to Church figures, the least believable courtroom scene since Night Court The Bonfire of the Vanities, a complicated incestuous relationship between siblings, spousal and child abuse, body horror, schlock FX, a priest kidnapping a patient from a hospital with police assistance, evil voice instructions, an “Indian burial ground,” and nearly everything else you could think of except red herrings and space aliens. An impressive accomplishment, really.

Why Did I Watch This MOvie?

I wish I could recall … something I was reading about another film led me to a synopsis of this one, and it provoked me. Because it sounded so lurid, I should add.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

It plays the way I figure a spoof of the “Scary Movie” ilk would. Fewer laffs, probably.


Highlight and Low Point

In what I can only term a dubiously satisfying twist, this picture’s fairly shameless imitation of possessed-person tropes from William Friedkin’s 1973 original offering is repaid fully by Exorcist III‘s borrowing of this flick’s jailhouse colloquies. Burt Young’s patriarch refers to the priest as “Priest,” as though it’s his name. At times, the house and “Sonny” seem simultaneously bewitched, enhancing the (everything-but-the) kitchen-sink undertakings. Kitchen sink included!

Rating From Outer Space:

John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987)

Written & Directed by John Carpenter
Alive Films/Larry Franco Productions

This picture, though certainly not a “horror comedy,” definitely includes comedic elements, in addition to its absurdist dialogue. Now, I don’t mean to disparage the writing of “Martin Quatermass,” but the plot of this flick concerns Satan’s dad being a type of antimatter, manifesting his offspring as a sentient liquid, buried in a magical canister at the behest of intergalactic interloper “Jesus Christ,” with warning messages transmitted via dreams based on a hypothetical physics particle. Yea, discursions amongst the major players in this drama get a bit unwieldy. Elements – pun unintended! – of this production recur in They LIve and In the Mouth of Madness. (Allegedly, The Thing, this, and “Madness” constitute a “trilogy.”)

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I frankly wasn’t interested in taking a gander at anything else I had pending, and this title popped up somewhere.



Should You Watch This Movie?

It’s not what one might expect from the title, I’ll give it that.


Highlight and Low Point

The script is sui generis; one could pick almost any random moment and find ponderousness. I did just that; here’s what I got:

“So what is the dream? Precognition? Previous knowledge of a future event?
  A shared vision of something that is yet to occur.”
“Caused by that thing downstairs?”
“Perhaps not!”
“A tachyon is a subatomic particle that travels faster than light.”

Donald Pleasence outdoes himself as, uh, “Priest,” getting so overwrought one might almost believe he Believes. (At the end of this affair, his lack of concern for what may have happened to anyone else is a nice touch.) The Prince’s method of transmitting his evil influence to others is peculiar – though reasonable given his limitations as, you know, a liquid – and disconcerting.

Rating From Outer Space: B

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

Directed by Jason Reitman
Columbia Pictures/Bron Creative/The Montecito Picture Company

Okay, I swear to Gozer the Gozerian that I was all set to praise this feature’s overbearing multiculturalism in a smarmy, backhanded manner, by snarking that it was a shame they couldn’t find a way to shoehorn a trans character into the mix, because that would have been the ultimate triumph of this era/age … but after I watched it, I found out that Celeste O’Connor, the performer portraying Finn Wolfhard’s (nonwhite) potential love interest, identifies as non-binary, so scratch that – Afterlife wins after all. Oh, and it’s acceptable as a movie, too, despite – as noted elsewhere – basically devolving into a reprise of the original, and despite its suspicious paucity of, you know, ghosts. Plus, since I don’t pay much careful attention to entertainment media, I was surprised when Ray, Peter and Winston showed up to do battle. (That was far from the worst “franchise”-related pandering the producers did, but more on that in a bit.)

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Man, I was 11 when the original came out. It was an immense cultural phenomenon (as noted by this flick’s script, which treats it like documentary footage).


Should You Watch This Movie?

It’s better than Ghostbusters II. Make of that what you will.


Highlight and Low Point

Seriously, the fan service herein reaches the point where it ceases to be evocative of actual audience identification and instead seemingly exists only to assure said audience that fan service is included in the package. It’s not as incestuous as the Spider-Man ouroboros (or that of Star Wars) … but this is just one picture. As for inclusion, Spengler’s granddaughter is depicted as being “on the spectrum.” Meanwhile, the Asian stererotype kid’s only given name is “Podcast.” That’s progress.

Rating From Outer Space: B

Beyond the Darkness aka The Devil’s Female aka Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen aka Magdalena, Possessed by the Devil (1974)

Directed by “Michael Walter”
TV 13

There’s exploitation, and there’s EXPLOITATION, and then there’s this feckless Exorcist parallel, which shows little regard for any aspect of its story that isn’t related to the nude form of Dagmar Hedrich, the comely lass who plays the title role. After around 75 minutes of wallowing in the gutter with little pretense of doing anything else, it’s possible that the film produces its most legitimately shocking moment when the director remembers to wedge the unequaled anticlimax of a half-assed exorcism into the final few minutes. Appropriately enough, Hedrich seems to have said “to Hell with this profession” after making this picture. (Not that this performance was going to be topped.) Highly entertaining, shamefully inexcusable, and amazingly crude and crass in more ways than one – not the least of which is that there’s almost no semblance of a storyline at all. Then again, helmer Walter Boos boasts a list of credits including such highbrow material as “Intimate Teenager” and “Train Station Pickups,” so …


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

You know I cannot turn away from a film titled “The Devil’s Female.”


Should You Watch This Movie?

The website Film Dienst classifies this as follows: Sex movie. (Its brief synopsis concludes, “We advise against it.”)


Highlight and Low Point

I will admit to a sense of befuddlement that the members of the cast take their jobs seriously and comport themselves professionally throughout this picture. The foulmouthed manner in which Magdalena requests Holy Communion has to be heard to be believed, though one might well wonder how or why it was so easy for her to convince her housemother to escort her to Church in the first place, given her immediately preceding histrionics. Hedrich does an ace job of simulating sexual congress with phantoms.

Rating From Outer Space:

Ghostbusters aka Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

Directed by Paul Feig
Village Roadshow Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Ghost corps*

*”A Columbia Pictures Company”

Check, this isn’t really a horror flick – but it isn’t really not at the very least a horror-comedy, either. You got your scary ghosts terrorizing the populace, undead, a demon-haunted world, the modern version of New York City … it qualifies. Like many a knee-jerk type, I figured this flick couldn’t be anything but terrible, but especially by “reboot” standards, I didn’t think it was all that bad. In fact, I’ll admit, it showed admirable restraint in a lot of areas – especially given the “standard” established by, say, Ghostbusters II. And I’ll allow, in fact, that it kinda acts as a mashup and reboot simultaneously, as elements of “II” intermingle herein with those of the original. I may still be unsure why exactly this was necessary, but it has to have been better than another go-round with the old folks would’ve been. But back to the well we go with the next installment. (Likely still with the same musical theme, too.)

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I wanted to see what Kate McKinnon would do with a feature role, and I was desperately avoiding schoolwork.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Well … nobody else did, hahaha. Not exactly gung-ho for the experience myself, I seriously doubt I could sit through it again. (It’s over two hours long, for one thing.)

Highlight and Low Point

Chris Hemsworth’s himbo secretary offers drollery, and Kristen Wiig is convincing enough as the … I want to say “straight man,” but that seems like a loaded term in the context of a female recasting, and “straight person” and “straight woman” seem to imply something else entirely. Anyway, Melissa McCarthy didn’t annoy the hell out of me, does that count?

Rating From Outer Space: C+

Ladrones de tumbas aka Grave Robbers (1989)

directed by ruben galindo jr.
producciones torrente s.a.

A gleefully gory tale of demonic retribution (or something) that somehow keeps a straight face throughout its often surprisingly effective graveyard-campsite-and-church assault, this Mexican extravaganza has a little bit of everything you’d expect: lustful Inquisition monks, young people up to no good, stalwart lawmen, holy writ, and a whole lot of shrill screaming. Despite the obviously unreal nature of the proceedings – we are, after all, dealing with the undead, unless one considers that condition differently when Satanic possession is in play – only a few moments provoke disbelieving laughter, and even the evil rejuvenated monk’s makeup job works pretty well. And for all the hints of or nods to well-worn potboiler themes or tactics, well … I’m not sure where else you could reasonably expect to go with this material. Call it “classically themed” and move on.

 
why did i watch this movie?

My previous selection was known as “Grave Secrets,” and was released the same year as this one. Plus, a Mexican production felt like a good idea.

should you watch this movie?

Right from the start, it hits all the notes. You more or less know what you’re going to be getting, and you get it. Plus some nifty depictions of attacks from la hacha.

highlight and low point

There’s an interesting twist to the method of dealing with the supernatural fiend, which is especially welcome given the prevalence of so many other standard-issue tropes. Sociologically, you’d have to go with the quartet of young adults who pursue grave robbing as, like, their career choice, because how else are they supposed to earn a living? The occasional melding of diverse genre elements is also fun. A glaring continuity error provoked a literal double take on my part.

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+

Devil Fetus aka Mo Tai aka 魔胎 (1983)

directed by lau hung-chuen
lo wei motion picture company

So what’s in a name? You think you know what you’re gonna get from a flick called “Devil Fetus,” but maybe you overlooked the fact that it was made in Hong Kong in the 1980s and you didn’t realize you were actually going to get one of the most inexplicable and incoherent pictures you’ve ever “enjoyed.” But what about the devil fetus, you demand. I wish I could tell you. Somehow, despite being sealed within the coffin of the dead woman whose uterus spawns it, eventually – many years later – the demonic spirit of the DEVIL FETUS (which does not have anything to do with, you know, “the devil”) inhabits the family dog … whose name, naturally, is “Bobby.” That’s all I’m going to tell you. You can figure out for yourself what in the hell Grandma was doing with that eagle blood.


why did i watch this movie?

Those of you familiar with my blathering on these pages know the reason.


should you watch this movie?

Well … it probably offers you a unique viewing experience. Sadly, it’s actually a little too restrained given the outsize expectations provoked by the title.

highlight and low point

You know, there are bad FX and unconvincing FX … and whatever the hell these FX are. Most of director Lau’s career credits are in cinematography (such as his work on 1980’s We’re Going to Eat You), and given that many of the “tricks” used here are double exposures and “substitution splicing,” that isn’t the greatest endorsement. At least one flying possessed person sports a noticeable wire. Oh! I almost forgot to mention the birthday dance party and the evocations of Beyond the Door! “You’re too proud, man,” as a friend once advised. “People slip.”

rating from outer space: ?

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