Bad Biology (2008)

Directed by Frank Henenlotter
Produced by R.A. The Rugged Man Thorburn

So, the Night Birds were a terrific horror-movie-and surf-music-influenced punk band from New Jersey, and they had a song called – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the subject of this post – “Bad Biology,” which I eventually found out was based on an actual independent film … because I was looking into the background stories of some underground rappers, one of whom was R.A. The Rugged Man, who cowrote and produced said flick … with director Frank Henenlotter, noted maverick filmmaker of, among other triumphs, Frankenhooker. With that recipe for success as the introduction, it probably shouldn’t surprise you to find out that I greatly enjoyed this picture, which also features a number of other underground rappers and some adult-entertainment personalities alongside its amateur and semipro cast. It’s crass, vulgar, violent, bloody, and very, very amusing, especially when the dialogue sounds like a table rehearsal, or when it’s the word-salad lingo spouted by J-Zone’s drug dealer character. The plot, such as it is, concerns a sentient, drug-addicted (detachable) penis and a woman with uncontrollable urges. But believe it or not, it’s really all about the search for deeper fulfillment. (Read that however you want.)

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Given what I related above, it was mandatory. It’s also been mentioned a time or two within The Devil’s DVD Bin.



Should You Watch This Movie?

It would make a pretty good double feature paired with X.


Highlight And Low Point

The Night Birds disbanded but I’ll keep plugging them, especially The Other Side of Darkness (earlier stuff) and Mutiny at Muscle Beach (their pinnacle). I think the neck-snap boom-bap collabos by Snowgoons led me here; they’ve featured both Thorburn and Reef The Lost Cauze (who appears in the picture).

Rating From Outer Space: B+

X (2022)

Written and Directed by Ti West
A24/Little Lamb/Mad Solar Productions

I had no intention of watching this picture … until I saw that it (simultaneously) spawned a pre/sequel (and an upcoming coda), and then I grew intrigued. A pseudo-hommage delivering more period-specific frisson à la director Ti West’s earlier House of the Devil, albeit with more T ‘n’ A and a few more gory killings, the setup was what initially failed to impress me: a film crew goes to a remote farm to shoot a porno and slaughter ensues. But once the action proper began, I found myself wondering about the psychology underlying the operation – most prominently, the conceit that director R.J. envisions making an aesthetic statement. I would argue that by 1979 – when this picture is set – the “porno chic” era had lapsed, and therefore imagined a poignancy underpinning the attempt. Poignancy reigns, of course, once we find out more about Pearl (the sequel’s namesake). Ultimately, however – ironically – this largely successful venture is not as “artistic” as one might imagine Mr. West believes it to be.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I already addressed that!


Should You Watch This Movie?

As implied above, its auteur really wants to showcase his carefully curated inspirations.


Highlight and Low Point

Themes of female agency or the lack thereof are explored, alongside some dismissal of what could be termed Middle Class Values. Speaking of which, I’m no America Firster, but I am somewhat disturbed that this production took place entirely in New Zealand. Economically speaking, that seems troublesome to me as a patron and erstwhile progenitor of The Arts. Producer Wayne predicts the home-video boom, which seems a little prescient … and adds another soupçon of pathos to his director’s plight (and perhaps further shading to his painful naïveté).

Rating From Outer Space: B

死霊の罠 aka Evil Dead Trap aka Shiryô no wana (1988)

Directed by Toshiharu Ikeda
Directors Company/Japan Home Video

There’s a LOT about this Japanese flick that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – including the title vis-à-vis the content of the picture – but maybe that’s par for the course with a quasi-supernatural mystery-haunted-house-slasher, who can say. (Synopsis: A television newsmagazine reporter traces a videotape that inexplicably includes her.) Other reviewers seem to feel it’s clearly indebted to the Giallo, but I’m not sophisticated enough to tell you if that’s just because of the cloaked killer whose identity eludes us throughout. I CAN tell you that the filmmakers didn’t seem to know how to end the proceedings, but ultimately chose poorly, and that by a certain point someone should have stepped in to do some editing. All in all, though, this was an entertaining and suspenseful production, though that latter quality may be largely due to the amount of creeping through poorly lit hallways the heroine has to endure. There’s an actual sequel, plus a third movie that appears to be mostly unrelated but was slapped with the tag for marketing purposes.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

The title caught my eye, and the description suitably engaged.



Should You Watch This Movie?

It was just different enough from my standard fare to sustain my interest, for whatever that’s worth.


Highlight and Low Point

There’s a lengthy (and frankly tangential) rape in this film which, although not particularly explicit, doesn’t differ much in feeling from an earlier portrayal of consensual sex. The actress was a noted performer from Japanese porn – originally slated for the lead role. The “Evil Dead” part of the moniker basically doesn’t apply, though some Raimi camerawork is evident. One kill in particular reminded me of, I think, “Blood Tracks. (If not Saw.)

Rating From Outer Space: C+

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:

Halloween Ends (2022)

Directed by David Gordon Green
Trancas International Films/Rough House Pictures/Universal Pictures/Miramax/Blumhouse

You remember in the remake of Friday the 13th how Jason had that underground lair? Well, Mikey Myers sorta has one of those in this idiotic picture, which additionally curries some Final Chapter/New Beginning zest. Which I guess is fitting, since this rebooted trilogy tried so hard to make “Michael” into J. Voorhees anyway. Most of Jamie Lee Curtis’s scenes are borderline unwatchable in this edition – allegedly the last of these, so we don’t have to pretend we’re interested anymore – and the voiceover narration of her (terrible) “book” is embarrassing. (Her minimal interactions with other cast members seem largely perfunctory as well.) Even for an endeavor that at best was going to be derivative and pandering, this release feels insipid, just one pat scene after another. And as usual, if you bother to think about any of it, it only gets dumber.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Title, date, obstinacy.

 
Should You Watch This MOvie?

The afternoon of the 31st, I listened to the Dead Kennedys album Plastic Surgery Disasters, in tribute to recently deceased drummer D.H. Peligro, because it contains the song “Halloween.” Coincidentally, a bar-party scene in this film features the two main characters dancing to that very same song.

Highlight and Low Point

I presume the (FOUR!) “writers” didn’t intend any anti-bullying message, especially given the namby-pamby transference BS they include. Reconfiguring the whole conceit of “The Shape” may be a halfway decent idea, or it just may be my transposition of their muddle. That Mike is something of an enfeebled afterthought here could be considered incisive commentary on the bogeyman-as-cipher … but isn’t played that way. The bottom line remains: no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

Rating From Outer Space: D−

Contagion (2011)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Double Feature Films/Gregory Jacobs

Maybe it’s not quite the feat of soothsaying it immediately may appear to be, but watching this picture with the hindsight of having lived through the brunt of the Covid disruption was a pretty amazing experience. And it’s a credit to Soderbergh’s artistry, I think, that I was so absorbed in the story he was telling that I didn’t even think about the REAL HORROR – which is of course that we knew, everybody knew, exactly what was going to happen when a real pandemic arose … and we did all the stupid things anyway, exacerbating a threatening situation until it became the deadliest farce imaginable. (Until the next one.) Too grim? Too pessimistic? Well, I’m typing this with a sore left arm, having gotten my second Covid booster (the new bivalent one) two days ago. And I still wear a mask every day at work. But I’m in the distinct minority there, where we also have some anti-vaxxers on staff. If you really think nothing else like Covid – or the unnamed SARS virus in this movie – will happen again, my question would then concern your level of trust in your fellow humans. You know, just in case.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

It was included in 100 American Horror Films by Barry Keith Grant, and I’d never seen it.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Because I’m cynical, and have no trust whatsoever in my fellow humans, my answer here is why fucking bother.


Highlight and Low Point

This picture is excellent, but I did have a problem with what I consider an ill-conceived subplot involving the abduction of a WHO epidemiologist in a political maneuver. It struck a discordant note of fiction in the film’s otherwise credible verisimilitude.

Rating From OUter Space: A−

They/Them (2022)

Written And Directed By John Logan
Bh/Desert Wolf

You know, if you’re a horror movie kinda person, you might make some general allowances for films made in your preferred idiom. For example, imagine, oh, I don’t know … maybe a “slasher” flick that takes place at … oh, let’s say a “camp.” With such a familiar setup, you therefore might reasonably expect certain motifs, themes, tropes, what-have-you. And when all the stuff you more or less expect happens, it’s more or less what you’re willing to accept.

Except familiarity breeds contempt, and in this made-for-TV “Peacock original,” there are multiple problems. After the not-unforeseeable reveal is, well, revealed, it just doesn’t pass muster, a literally unbelievable gaffe that’s a disastrous last choice for Their underwhelming genre attempt.

I had higher hopes for this picture. I did appreciate the mild pronoun joke (poorly aped just above). And though I’ll grant that one must start somewhere in working out how to approach broadening the scope of flicks like these, this attempt mainly just shoehorns orientation/gender topics into an unimaginative template. I began this piece by pointing out my willingness to play along, but – ironically enough – this production mainly comes across like it’s not sure what it really wants to be.

Uninspired even by stock horror standards, it feels as though it was written around its cliché bonding moment – a musical number.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

In another review, I suggested a “slasher movie where the trans character breaks the usual archetype,” and imagined that potential addressed here.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t come close, but one character (“Jordan”) takes a tentative step.


Highlight and Low Point

HEY DIDJA KNOW THE TITLE’S PRONOUNCED “THEY SLASH THEM”


That attempted witticism’s not even an accurate synopsis!

Rating From OUter SPace: D+

The Bay (2012)

Directed by Barry Levinson
Baltimore Pictures/Haunted Movies

Like most people who prefer to believe they’re rational actors, I hear the descriptions “found footage” and “mockumentary” in the synopsis of a “horror film” and I metaphorically run the other way. Then again, it is also true that nearly every art form, no matter how dubious, contains within it the potential for the sublime, for a performance that can outstrip its lowly genesis.

There are two directions I could be headed here, right? “This is not that movie” or “The Bay is a stellar example.” Well, it’s the latter. Buttressed by some splendid performances amongst its nearly anonymous cast, and paced very effectively in the creeping dread of its reveals, this Barry Levinson production is an exemplary and audacious eco-terror. Something is terribly wrong in Chesapeake Bay, you see. Is chicken farming to blame? Perhaps yes, but it’s much more complicated than that. Even so, between this and Cooties, the poultry industry must have been glad that lower-tier fright flicks don’t generate a lot of societal uproar.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

‘Twas Independence Day, but I couldn’t make it through the blockbuster with that title; the action herein also takes place on said holiday.


Should You Watch This Movie?

As a Radical Leftist® who thinks commercial fishing should be banned, of course I endorse this picture.


Highlight and Low Point

I noted three major detractions from the “documentary” conceit: The American oceanographer constantly carping (sorry) about his French partner’s accent; the fact that the fish the oceanographers examined didn’t quite look freshly caught; and the improbably framed closeups on one character’s face as he drove. Most convincing murder/suicide scene I can imagine, though. And the interactions between the doctor and the CDC were eerily instructive.

Rating From Outer Space: A−

Land of the Dead (2005)

Written and Directed by George A. Romero
A Mark Canton-Bernie Goldmann and Romero-Grunwald Production

While I enjoyed this relatively lavish Romero film, by the end it was nagging at me that what I had sat through was more or less an action movie. But then I started thinking about it, and realized that at heart, many zombie pictures basically are. This one, however, includes a ridiculous military vehicle – not to mention paramilitary forces – suitable for a Schwarzenegger flick, as well as a revenge plot against a devious criminal plutocrat. Ah, but the allegorical possibilities abound nearly 20 years after this film’s release. Masses in the cities crowded into hardscrabble Hoovervilles! The rich safely ensconced in their fortresslike tower! The undead inhabitating the vast wastelands that once were civilized! Or would those examples be parabular? Maybe Romero just had the touch of prescience.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Having just finished the initial “Living Dead” trilogy, and having found Day of more interesting than expected, I figured I might’s well tackle the more modern set.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Dunno … gotta watch the other two chapters before I can say. (As a standalone, I’m not sure it rates.)

Highlight and Low Point

The acting’s more convincing in this rendition, certainly as compared to the previous installment. It reminded me that John Leguizamo existed, for one thing … and also reminded me that CBS had a show called The Mentalist that I always thought looked utterly idiotic (and which ran for seven seasons). I suppose it’s intriguing that while the military theme carries over from that underground bunker in Florida, it’s now a private concern. I’d like to know more about how the other uninfected human survivors managed to last long enough to form have/have-not parallel societies.

Rating From Outer Space: C+

Cooties (2014)

Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion
Spectrevision/Glacier Films

I’m glad I’m not a real movie critic, because if I were I’d apparently have to be as humorless as I was when I was a music critic, and then I wouldn’t have enjoyed this terrific little picture nearly as much as I did. A (now much more) topical story of a mysterious viral outbreak, triggered by an infected meat product, that becomes a pandemic afflicting the prepubescent and turning them into merciless and ravenous killing agents, it’s as effectively targeted at teachers as Abbott Elementary, which it occasionally resembles (only with copious gore). It’s initially set in summer school, you see, and watching the transformation of foulmouthed fourth graders into zombified marauders – and the gleefully violent means to which their teachers resort to fight their way out – is … well, I guess I shouldn’t say it’s “heartwarming” if I want to keep my job, but it sure is grimly hilarious. This is some dark, dark, humor, and though it’s true, critic class, that it doesn’t breathe new life into blah blah blah, what the hell do you people want, anyway?

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I discovered it took place in scholastic environs, and I’m a professional educator.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Well, I thought it was fun. The usual “horror comedy” caveat applies.


Highlight and Low Point

I don’t wanna get up on my soapbox again, but relying on the “Asian” character to provide martial arts flash and noticeably accented speech is an unfortunate choice – even given the rather broadly drawn stereotypes of all the other grownup characters. (Macho man-child, burnout, flaming gay guy, histrionic, milksop, etc.) Amusing use is made of ADHD meds. Located in fictional town of “Fort Chicken, Illinois.” Adeptly vulgar.

Rating From Outer Space: B+