Altered Skin (2018)

written and directed by adnan ahmed
indiecan entertainment/federgreen entertainment/empirical films/md productions

The first film I’ve ever seen lensed in Karachi, Pakistan, this Canadian production tells a tale of a drug company withholding research on a potential cure for a rapidly spreading virus in order to maximize profits on its patent treatment, and also probably to enhance the corporation’s market value prior to its sale. So while the premise is hardly farfetched, the disease in question, which produces implacable cannibal hordes reminiscent of those in 28 Days Later (but much slower, of course), stretches the bounds of credulity a bit. Disclaimer: I am not a molecular biologist or immunologist or whatever, so hey, maybe quickly mutating viruses could have such an effect. Anyway, it’s all enmeshed in a conspiracy to prevent the Liberal Media from interfering with Big Pharma’s imprimatur. I may be putting my own spin on that, sorry.

why did i watch this movie?

“While caring for his ailing wife, an American engineer in Pakistan stumbles upon a deadly pharmaceutical conspiracy.”

should you watch this movie?

Though the zombie approximation of the mysterious illness isn’t the freshest concept, given the corporate American drug/healthcare/insurance complex, along with the questionable government administration or oversight of same, themes here may be of interest nonetheless.

highlight and low point

Authority barely exists in this pic’s verisimilitude, which I will accept as representative of actual reality. A telling quotation: “You know, if you could ever fix a problem by denying it ever existed, this place? Would be a fucking Utopia.” The unshakeable probity of the protagonist might be a touch overdone, but as a questionably allied henchman of the curative cartel accuses, he IS essentially acting out of selfish interest, so that’s really just a bit more food for thought.

rating from outer space: B+

Izbavitelj aka The Rat Savior aka Der Rattengott aka The Redeemer (1976)

directed by krsto papić
jadran film/croatia film

A political allegory from Croatia, then situated in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which won the equivalent of Best Picture in Portugal’s Fantasporto festival in 1982, and which has been noted for being reminiscent to modern viewers of both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live. Set in a failed economy grasping for answered prayers, this is kind of a slow-developing picture, a fact more notable due to its relative brevity; the version I watched ran about 76 minutes, and I’ve seen evidence of versions ranging from two minutes longer to eight. Eventually, however, it reaches its peak, of what is essentially a terrible hopelessness. Based on a story by Russian writer Aleksandr Grin called something like “The Rat-Catcher,” this film ultimately hinges on a similar observation to the terrifying underlying theme of 1984: you can’t trust anybody, especially yourself.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t have any idea what led me to this one … some rabbit (rat?) hole or other, presumably.

should you watch this movie?

As mentioned, it won’t take up too much of your time, and if you have any interest whatsoever in political themes – or, for that matter, historical ones – yeah, put it on your list.

highlight and low point

This production is lensed in such a way as to mute out its colors, which has the effect of making it appear much older than it actually is. Coupled with the subtitling and the stilted nature of much of the action, it comes across a lot like a silent movie at times, an impression only strengthened by the soundtrack. Locating some of the most important moments of the story in what is purportedly the abandoned “central bank” building is a masterful touch.

rating from outer space: B

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+

La novia ensangrentada aka The Blood Spattered Bride (1972)

escrita y dirigida por vicente aranda
morgana films

Part of the early-to-mid-’70s lesbian vampire movie mini-craze, this Spanish offering is actually a very stylish affair, even as it doesn’t skimp on some more questionable themes or visuals. One of many retellings of important Dracula precursor Carmilla, the tale follows a newlywed couple back to the groom’s palatial ancestral home, where strange occurrences soon are afoot. And at hand. Namely, the young bride begins having eerie, violent dreams that involve a mystery woman she has glimpsed more than once while awake. Her chauvinistic husband is dubious. A doctor who apparently doubles as a detective of sorts is downright dismissive. The caretakers’ strange little girl … is strange. An accomplished piece of art, despite its exploitative carnality.

why did i watch this movie?

It was in my queue for so long, I couldn’t possibly tell you, but at some point I was stockpiling turn-of-the-’70s vampire flicks, so …

should you watch this movie?

“You mean the two women were howling?”
“Mm-hm, like two cats in heat – that’s when I ran away. They sounded … like vampires.”

highlight and low point

Should you need proof of how mores have changed in male/female relationship dynamics since the early ’70s – or, perhaps, seek illustration of the difference between Spain and the USA in terms of attitudes toward such things – you’ll be delighted by how Susan’s new husband treats her. If you’re of a certain bent, you’ll also appreciate her eventual response. If you’re like me, you’ll love exchanges such as this:

“How many times does something have to be repeated before it ceases to be a coincidence?”

“Some cases, twice would be sufficient.”

Performances are very deliberate. Maribel Martín, in her inaugural star vehicle, delectably transforms a moue into a death stare, often.

rating from outer space: B+

The New York Ripper aka Lo squartatore di New York (1982)

directed by lucio fulci
fulvia film s.r.l.

“The violence here is ugly, demeaning and frightfully pathological,” the author proclaims, adding that the film “features long, lingering and loving shots of gratuitous sex, nudity and horrific violence.” He further contends that the picture is “reviled for its rampant misogyny, unspeakably deranged mutilation of women; and its duck-voiced, interminably quacking psychokiller” and “remains a hollow, forced, uninspired effort that very few have rallied to support.”

Well, sure, you think, but everyone’s a critic, and you crane your neck to see the title … and discover that those quotes are taken from the 1996 book Lucio Fulci: Beyond the Gates – A Tribute to the Maestro by Chas Balun.

I don’t have much to add, but allow me to correct a misspelling from Mr. Balun’s tome: when describing the scene with the prostitute and the razor blade and the eye and the nipple, the erstwhile scribe meant to write “bisected.”

why did i watch this movie?

Its notoriety, I guess. I also kept running across it while looking for blog fodder, so I figured I might as well just get it over with already.

should you watch this movie?

I suppose it depends on just how much you want to see that bisection alluded to up above. Trust me, you can live happily without hearing the maniacally quacking killer.

highlight and low point

The sheer overkill of most of the slashing, which favors closeups for emphasis, is kind of breathtaking in its appalling level of sadism. Also often filmed in extreme closeup: Yes, people’s eyes, the both of ’em. Five, six times, at least. The “psychological insights” are probably some sort of attempt to lend this picture a feeble justification for its existence, to no avail. The anachronistic music’s pretty groovy.

rating from outer space: F

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−

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−