Island of the Fishmen aka L’isola degli uomini pesce (1979)

directed by sergio martino
dania film/medusa cinematografica

This contemplative, philosophical inquiry into the underpinnings of theories of evolution and the turmoil that can result when ruling classes oppose their implications ultimately wrests from its labors a few hard-won victories for what is best labeled “truth.” Hahaha, no – this is an Italian Island of Dr. Moreau crossed with an adventure serial, featuring some FX we’d later see improved by Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Coincidentally, it also features the pursuit of treasure from an ancient land.) Also featured is a voodoo cult, for some reason that either wasn’t provided or to which I wasn’t paying enough attention. Overall, it was a labor to get through this contrivance, but at times it almost approaches B-movie apotheosis. All it lacks is anything interesting or titillating or engaging or exciting!

why did i watch this movie?

I really don’t remember, so let’s presume it was the ridiculous title and Italian origin.

should you watch this movie?

Not unless you have to, which I’d wager is unlikely.

(Note: L’isola was also released for U.S. consumption under the titles “Something Waits in the Dark” and “Screamers,” both of which were altered to some considerable degree.)

highlight and low point

The stock volcano footage is gratifying, as are the obvious miniatures used for various shots such as that immediately above. Other FX are worthy of derision at best – but the “fishmen” themselves aren’t half bad. As is customary, the dubbed dialogue provides many great moments, such as this revelatory soliloquy:

Now I remember! He’s the geneticist who was condemned for his experiments … transplanting animal organs into human beings.

Oh, yeah, him. The above reminiscence leads to the equally appealing accusation, “You’re not a scientist! You’re a madman, an insane criminal!”  Gripe, gripe.

Rating from outer space: c−

Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

written and directed by Michael Dougherty
bad hat harry productions/legendary pictures

Taking a cue from what seemed a trustworthy source, I made this pic my Halloween viewing this year and was not disappointed. A hearty romp through four (sort of) interrelated stories, spun out in nonchronological fashion and represented in the guise of a comic book, this seasonal offering has a little bit of something for just about everybody: unsuspected killers, party girls, junior pranksters, misbehaving adults, a sour old man, werewolves. Not terribly beholden of any particular era or genre, it manages to tiptoe between reverence and mockery, retro appeal and modern trappings, and is all the better for it. I suppose some could quibble that it’s a little tame, and while that may be a fair assessment, this is good, wholesome family entertainment, so don’t let it dissuade you. (You’d be advised to have a passably peculiar family, though.)

why did i watch this movie?

I needed appropriate Hallows’ Eve entertainment, and the ebook Schlock Treatment by “Duane Bradley” – whose opinion of many other films resonated with me, and who clearly shares my exquisite taste – singled out this production as an accomplished affair that deserved more attention.

should you watch this movie?

I could find little fault with it; it was thoroughly enjoyable.

highlight and low point

Described as an anthology-style picture, it doesn’t much present as one, to its credit. Several layers of subtle misdirection serve the proceedings exceedingly well, as does the filmmaker’s apparent discretion to avoid cheap scares in favor of slower and more evocative development. The humor, too, is more implicit than upfront. The final major portion of the story we’re shown contains what seemed to me a monumental continuity issue, though it doesn’t bear much actual import.

rating from outer space: A−

3 From Hell (2019)

written and directed by rob zombie
spookshow international/capital arts entertainment

In the rock ‘n’ roll world, bands sometimes hit a home run with their first release because it’s the culmination of everything they’ve spent their lives working toward, all their passion and labor and inspiration and insanity and their most finely honed materal in one definitive document. Then they’ve got, like, eight months to follow it up, and that’s where the magic often ends. That didn’t happen with Rob Zombie’s music career; it took White Zombie years to claw their way out of the NYC underground and hit it big in the early ’90s with La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, and he still enjoys a musical following. The template does describe his directorial career, however. House of 1000 Corpses, if not exactly original, seemed to presage the existence of a new horror auteur … but the bloom has faded from that rose. This sequel to the underwhelming Corpses sequel The Devil’s Rejects is a Tarantino-lite quasi-comedic misstep that more than ever showcases little save its writer’s underdeveloped vocabulary and lack of interesting ideas.

why did i watch this movie?

I greatly enjoyed Corpses, and liked Rejects the first time.

should you watch this movie?

It’s rather insipid.

highlight and low point

A moment or two in this picture works all right, but that’s about it. The setup is pretty dumb, the dialogue is godawful, it’s imitative, and it tiredly rehashes some stylistic elements from the last film, only stretched beyond parodic. Oh, and adds a new family member to provide the crucial deliverance. This chapter should’ve followed Tiny, last seen shortly before the ending of Rejects, and Dr. Satan, who’s still presumably out there somewhere, too.

rating from outer space: D−

These clowns liked it, apparently.
Photo from imdb (Tasia Wells)

Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)

written & directed by kevin s. Tenney
trimark pictures/Blue Rider Pictures

It was surprisingly difficult to access this cinematic … accomplishment, but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as the truly sublime can often be misunderstood in its own era and lost to the mists of time. Such a fate didn’t befall this assuredly pedestrian and laughably underwhelming piece of schlock, of course, but this humdinger strikes just about every single note on the Space Rats scale. It also encompasses every trick in the straight-to-video book, and even includes unbelievably cliché visuals one step removed from stock footage. Loads of laughs, most (all?) of which are completely unintentional, owe a great deal to the completely ridiculous depiction of various aspects of the legal world, and the various thespians competing to be the least convincing also abet the cause. Really, the hackneyed plot is one of the lesser worries here. You notice I didn’t say Richard even mention the “puppet” yet?

why did i watch this movie?

Weeeellll, I was looking for another thrilling thriller from the 1990s, and I wanna say I noticed the, uh, critical éclat for this flick, but maybe it just sounded dumb enough to suit my purposes – I really can’t recall.

should you watch this movie?

Oh, my questionable tastes definitely recommend that course of action.

highlight and low point

Golly, so much to choose from … I think I’m going to have to go with the various scenarios related to the suspicious suffering of our lead character’s significant other, however. The nanny’s absurd and inconsistent accent also deserves consideration, as do any number of undersold reaction shots. And one must not neglect the remarkable school bus scene. Soap‘s Fr. Timothy Flotsky (Sal Viscuso) allegedly has a bit part in this picture.

rating from outer space: C−

Darlin’ (2019)

written & directed by pollyanna mcintosh
hood river entertainment

Oh, man, THIS is why sequels have such a bad reputation. Wilfully destroying the disturbing mythos and gripping power of Offspring and The Woman (not to mention Off Season, the Jack Ketchum novel that started the series), Darlin’ is a dispiritingly transparent and simplistic reexamination of some of the same themes as Lucky McKee‘s “Woman,” only without much of anything to recommend it in any way. Oddly, it was created and helmed by Pollyanna McIntosh, who one would presume to have more of an investment in extending the character’s draw. Poorly conceived, unconvincingly executed, predictable, and incongruously sentimental, I am really at a loss as to why on earth this movie was produced.

why did i watch this movie?

I‘m a sucker. for some reason thought a follow-up to The Woman would be a fascinating study of the ongoing attempts of primitive cannibals to survive in modern society, plus who hasn’t pondered how former members of that society might adapt to devolution in the aftermath of all they’d experienced?

should you watch this movie?

It does not address any of the above concerns.

highlight and low point

The word that springs to mind for this film’s treatment of religious institutions and the priesthood is “facile.” It’s maddeningly stereotypical, and the main target is two-dimensional and untrustworthy from his first moments onscreen. Also, the only sympathetic male character is gay, just in case you were somehow missing the incisive social commentary. Such lack of nuance really detracts from whatever the hell the point is supposed to be. Furthermore, the structure of the film very closely parallels that of The Woman, only with an extremely dubious subtheme of awakening or self-reliance or self-preservation or some such. Ridiculous.

rating from outer space: d−

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−

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−