Soul to Keep (2018)

directed by david allensworth and moniÈre
shady tree films/cineque pictures

“Not bad,” I thought to myself as this one finished. I mean, it wasn’t great, not by any means, don’t get me wrong – but it overcame a few significant faults to pass the time well enough. The repeatedly used FX was pretty lousy and didn’t play well, and the production felt like a low-budget friends-and-family affair, but the slowly developing storyline held some promise. Okay, sure, it involves a group of young people that find an EVIL BOOK in a MYSTERIOUS BASEMENT (festooned with blood!) on an OLD FARM, and so naturally decide to try to summon a demon – that might provoke an eyeroll, as may the telegraphed minor twist at the very end. Ah, but what to make of all those relationships, anyway? (Psst – that’s a clue.)

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t remember. Perhaps invoking the heady name of Beelzebub did the trick.

should you watch this movie?

How hypercritical are you? I’ve seen a lot of hot takes about this picture from people I can only presume don’t realize how hard it is to make one of these features.

highlight and low point

This picture probably coulda used clearer direction and a less derivative conclusion, yes, but again, I kinda grade on a curve ’round these parts, and a flick like this – made well beyond the fringes of the famous names and fancy catering of the celluloid industry – benefits greatly from that position. Things could be better, as a few problems insist: some of the acting isn’t up to snuff and eventually one gets the feeling the screenplay tried to stuff in a few too many twists ‘n’ turns. The mostly obnoxious college-age kids seem to be accurately portrayed, though.

rating from outer space: c−

The Mangler (1995)

directed by tobe hooper
distant horizon/filmex (pty) ltd/allied film productions

You’d THINK that a story about a bloodthirsty industrial laundry machine – Box Office Mojo: “A laundry-folding machine has been possessed by a demon, causing it to develop homicidal tendencies” – would be a premise stupid enough to satisfy most people, but Tobe Hooper apparently wasn’t most people, as it seems it wasn’t stupid enough for him. No, he must have decided – having cowritten the damn thing – that the presentation would have to be dumbed down in order to make an inexcusably brain-dead travesty of a feature. It’s a chore merely to make it past the first couple minutes, which I attest having had to try more than once. Everything looks abysmally fake, most of the acting is atrocious, the embellishments to the plotline of S. King’s originating short story are idiotic, and holy contrivance, Robert Englund’s character. He – it – they … stammering, reduced to, me. Bleah.

why did i watch this movie?

Besides my S. King obsessiveness, I had just finished Hooper’s Funhouse and fumbled my way into the realization that he directed (and cowrote) this crap.

should you watch this movie?

Plenty of terrible adaptations of S. King material are out there, just waiting for you. (Thinner, for example – I couldn’t make it through that one the first time I tried, either.)

highlight and low point

Look, the story itself (which you can read in the Night Shift collection) ends with the industrial speed-ironer wrenching itself from its moorings and stalking humanity, and I’ll grant that would be a difficult occurrence to film. That being said, the animated Mangler at this picture’s apogee is deliriously spurious. The filmic resemblance to portions of Graveyard Shift (story also from aforementioned source) do not lend this production any additional credibility.

rating from outer space: 0

The Edge of Hell aka Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)

directed by john fasano
thunder films inc.
music by “the tritonz”

That this is somehow not the worst movie I’ve ever seen is really rather remarkable – and should probably be kind of embarrassing – given that not one single aspect of filmmaking is presented here with even the barest glimmer of competence. When the ending decides to play explicitly for humor, it underscores just how terrible the acting, pacing, delivery and screenwriting has been all along. Basically an extended music video for a fake band displaying most of the worst traits of the nadir of the hair metal era, this production also boasts some of the stupidest demonic puppetry imaginable and a surprise denouement that beggars belief nearly as strongly as it punches holes through whatever scant structure allegedly had been supporting the ramshackle works. And the songs! Maybe they were supposed to be humor as well, I don’t know, but “We Accept The Challenge” alone nearly had me weeping with incredulous near-hysteria.

why did i watch this movie?

Yeah, I was wondering that, too, until I remembered that the director also helmed the following year’s Black Roses.

should you watch this movie?
highlight and low point

After the interminable opening scene(s) of this shot-on-video, uh, epic, its audience is treated to one of “John Triton” (“Jon Mikl Thor”) driving a van, from various angles and vantage points, for four solid minutes. “Holy crow,” I thought to myself, “this barely rises to the level of ‘inept.’” Was I ever in for a treat. The band rocking out is unintentionally (?) hilarious, the multiple sex scenes are absurd, the wandering “cinematography” is often pointless, the FX are silly, the “story” is inane (what there is of it), and the “acting” is cover-your-eyes awful. The music’s the BEST part!

rating from outer space: D+

Demons (1985)

directed by lamberto bava
dacfilm, rome

A couple days ago, my brother says to me, “I was just thinking about the video for [Mötley Crüe’s] ‘Too Young to Fall in Love’ … what the hell WAS that? It made no sense.”

I thought for a moment. “That was the one with the ninjas, right?” I asked.
(It was. But maybe they were “samurai.”)

Well, sub out the ninjas for zombies – wait, sorry, “demons” – and exchange the “Asian” setting for a fortress-like movie theater in the middle of Berlin, add a lot of screaming … and it still might be more coherent than this Italian splatterfest. Clearly scripted with its eye firmly set on the teenage metalhead demographic (a key rampage is set to “Fast as a Shark” by Accept, and so forth), this blaring mess managed to give me a headache while also inducing boredom. Seriously, I was metaphorically glancing at my watch while enduring this nonsense. The ending sequence somehow manages to make even less sense than the rest of the film … in which Nostradamus is to blame for demonic carnage.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded as though it would be a lot of fun. The novelty wore off quickly.

should you watch this movie?

It felt REALLY dated, and not just because I was watching a murky VHS upload. Too redolent of MTV, perhaps.

highlight and low point

This is the sort of flick wherein the language barrier makes the dialogue sound like phrases read from a textbook, and where the characters narrate all the action and describe everything they’re doing. Example: Three characters are watching a demon claw its way out of a woman’s back. One of them exclaims, “Look at her back!” They are all already looking at her back.

rating from outer space: D+

Lovely Molly (2011)

written, directed, and edited by eduardo sanchez
haxan films/amber entertainment

Man, you just can’t please some people. After finishing this highly disturbing picture, I decided to survey its popular acclaim, only to find that it doesn’t have much. And while I can definitely accept that rhetorical devices at play here – the videotaping, the “paranormal activity” and whatnot – might provoke a sense of ennui in some viewers, the vast majority of this film plays as a character study of a woman seemingly losing her mind, potentially becoming a danger to herself and others. That the climax suggests (and, to my mind, somewhat abruptly) a rather different explanation doesn’t much detract from the tense atmosphere created and explored throughout. For the resolution, I might’ve preferred something a bit less Shyamalanesque, because the nature of the characters’ unravelings had been intense and unsettling, but I’ll admit I disregarded plentiful cues.

why did i watch this movie?

Sometimes, I just idly browse through synopses of horror flicks and randomly winnow down a passel of choices until I select a few titles that sound interesting.

should you watch this movie?

You know what, I liked it. Now, keep in mind I’ve neither seen “Blair Witch” nor Paranormal Activity, so maybe that helped. Your tolerance level for “found footage” presented as though real-time documentation may be of import.

highlight and low point

Credit must be given for a distressing scene of person-to-person violence that was truly shocking, and not for the squeamish – hackles-raising stuff. Gretchen Lodge’s performance of the title role is splendid, and pretty fearless to boot. The murky backstory helps rather than hinders, but the most important clue is literally buried and one may well attach no importance whatsoever to it. (The working title was “The Possession,” hint hint.)

rating from outer space: B+

Beyond the Door aka Chi sei? aka The Devil Within Her aka Behind the Door aka Who Are You? etc. (1974)

directed by o. hellman and r. barrett
a. erre cinematografica, s.r.L.

SUCH a ripoff of The Exorcist (and Rosemary’s Baby) that  … oh, God help us, maybe this isn’t fiction at all! Maybe it’s – A WARNING! (In an ordinary horror flick, right about now you’d get some clamorous sounds, maybe piercing strings, I dunno, but herein you get, like, afro-jazz-funk.) You’re not even going to believe this, but I recognized the name of one of the cameraman in the credits, Maurizio Maggi, because he also worked on L’occhio nel Labirinto. Was he the entity responsible for all the double exposures here? How much overtime did the sound guys have to put in to create all the overdubs? That was quite the feat of editing, let me tell you. This foreign-market plagiarism is occasionally almost scary, even.

why did i watch this movie?

Redd Kross is entirely to blame.

should you watch this movie?

It manages to be intermittently entertaining, with scads of bizarre minor details, but mostly due to its utter shamelessness. The dubbed script is of course masterful:

“No doctor can possibly explain her pregnancy.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is not … explainable.”

(Luckily for the devil’s surrogate, her condition arises post-Roe v. Wade, so she is advised by her doctor that she can terminate the diabolic fetus “should we come to the conclusion that your pregnancy creates a definite hazard to your … physical, or mental health.” She demurs, however.)

Oh, and the sound design really is pretty effective.

highlight and low point

When the character named after one of the directors is hassled by a street musician emulating Rahsaan Roland Kirk, well, that’s something you sure don’t see every day. A sequence that transforms the (human) children’s bedroom into a dangerous funhouse is impressive.

rating from outer space: d

Black Roses (1988)

directed by john fasano
shapiro glickenhaus entertainment/rayvan productions

I’m laughing just thinking about how to discuss this picture with you, so that’s a pretty good indication of its … strengths. About as completely ridiculous a flick as you could hope for, adding a little over-the-top gore might’ve propelled this one into true cult-classic status. As it is, it falls a little short of that mark, but it does bring a whole lot of mind-bending goodness to the table. And omigod, if you’re hankering for a healthy chunk-a ’80s cheese, queue this one up immediately. You will NOT regret it. Well, all right, you may very well regret it, but you’ll still probably have a “good” time.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like the kind of feature that was the inspiration for this blog in the first place.

should you watch this movie?

It’s idiotically entertaining. As I was viewing it, I simultaneously planned to see Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, an earlier but equally ambitious offering from the same director.

highlight and low point

I personally always enjoy obvious body double scenes. The FX render pitiful or insipid what were probably intended to be threatening or imposing demonic characters and monsters, one of which ends up not dissimilar in appearance from the title beasts on the early ’90s sitcom Dinosaurs. It’s Howard the Duck-level bad, albeit obviously not on anywhere near the same scale. Being that the “plot” concerns the then-timely concern of EVIL “metal” bands warping the minds of impressionable youths, the soundtrack will floor you, presuming you miss the likes of Bang Tango, King Kobra and Lizzy Borden.


Yeah, that shows you more than you needed to know. You just saved almost 1.5 hours!

rating from outer space:

The Hole in the Ground (2019)

directed by lee cronin
bankside films/savage productions/head gear films/wrong men north/bord scannÁn na hÉireann (irish film board)

Seeming like folklore – almost literally an old wives’ tale – this slowly building story of maternal fear couldn’t help but remind me of 2014’s The Babadook, although the threat here apparently arises more from within than from a mythological creature. Truth be told, it also evoked vague thoughts of multiple other flicks, though I think that may be mainly because it works upon classical sources for our deepest horrors. Or something. Although the picture’s pretty engrossing, it does have holes almost as big as the one responsible for the title, even if some of them may not occur to you until after the fact. Largely psychological and atmospheric, it ultimately lacks for quite enough heft. Building a mystery is all well and good, but leaving some paths to trail off completely feels like misdirection, and results in the film’s resolution feeling unfounded.

why did i watch this movie?

This was the other film that made the cut after my perusal of the questionable streaming site mentioned in my review of 30 Miles From Nowhere. It’s another Irish production, which swayed me.

should you watch this movie?

It’s not as though it’s a total waste of time, but it needed a little bit more to recommend it, and it might feel kind of derivative, to boot.

highlight and low point

The extremely low-key manner in which Seána Kerslake’s Sarah deduces the truth about her son almost escaped my attention entirely, which makes it rather magnificently understated. A little too much goes unexplored or undeveloped, though, and when Sarah decides to get to the bottom of things – perhaps a little too literally – the pic reaches a nadir – perhaps a little too literally – from which it barely recovers.

rating from outer space: c−

 

Skin Creepers (2018)

directed by ezra tsegaye
botchco films

I’m not entirely sure what kind of movie Botchco Films was going for with this one, and I suspect they may not have known, either. A scene or two notwithstanding, it’s not really fearful enough to be considered a true horror, its humor is often too subtle for it to be deemed an out-and-out comedy, and it doesn’t quite cut it as a hybrid, either. Plus, there’s sort of a weird noirish angle going on, too. Despite the misgivings such observations might engender, however, when you consider that the plot of this film concerns the principals of a company called “Botchco Films” trying to make an ethically questionable, budget-challenged movie with a performer who may or may not be from the adult-film world – and continually debating the related semantics of their predicament and their art – it should seem more inviting. And one of the characters winds up literally in Hell, so there’s that. Though no particular angle suggests itself as the driving impulse behind this concoction, maybe the meta nature of Botchco Films including itself in its fictional world is just that purposeful. Whoa, man, deep.

why did i watch this movie?

C’mon, admit it, you’re wondering what “Skin Creepers” means, too. German picture, self-referential description, comedy/horror, why not.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a little lightweight, to be honest. And strangely enough, it kinda reminded me of Jim Jarmusch flicks from time to time. (Speaking of which, The Dead Don’t Die.)

highlight and low point

The banter between the producer and the director is really pretty entertaining throughout, and their general haplessness is also amusing. Given the subject matter, though, the production is a little too tame for the most part, apart from one particularly gruesome effect. A sneaky twist ending comes unforeseen, which was appreciated.

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−