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−

 

The Ugly (1997)

written & directed by scott reynolds
essential productions/the new zealand film commission

What a deft accomplishment this New Zealand production is. With a setting straight out of the mundane – serial killer in asylum, being interviewed by psychiatrist – this nifty little low-budget film never settles for the industry standard, a directive it follows all the way through to the end. Piecing together fragments of the story as it proceeds – symbolically represented by events in the story itself – the question becomes how much of the killer’s version one is expected to believe. With its effects largely confined to jarring cuts and hazy flashes, and much of its overt violence glimpsed therein, an enigmatic aura is created and sustained. Though as the film moves past its climax it begins to rely a little too much on what may perhaps be manifestations of the mind of the madman, enough quirks and curveballs are presented along the way to avert predictability. The final scene is no exception. Interpretations may vary.

why did i watch this movie?

1990s. Saw some reviews or blurbs that said it was a little offbeat, and affecting.

should you watch this movie?

Aficionados of little-known horror flicks should definitely search for this one. Really, those who are more than casual fans of the genre would most likely appreciate it.

highlight and low point

The unique presentation of the material stands out, because – again – this is well-trodden territory, but it never quite feels that way while on view. The characterizations are interesting and not straight from central casting, as it were. The filmmakers also do a credible job despite very apparent fiscal constraints. On the downside, at times some deliberately outré details seem too intentional, and a few issues the script didn’t intend to raise might rankle a bit.

rating from outer space: A−

The Road Builder aka The Night Digger (1971)

directed by alastair reid
yongestreet productions/tacitus productions

Based on a novel with the unwieldy and unpromising title of “Nest in a Fallen Tree,” with a screenplay by Roald Dahl and starring his wife, this tale of suspense is very British, a study of drawing-room manners for the most part. Oh, but there’s a twist! Here we have a festering sense of resentment within the familial relationship that anchors the picture, a kinship upset and altered by the arrival of a young stranger. Now, some of what then occurs is basic dark British fodder; murders are perpetrated, suspicions are raised, and the village folk get to enjoy more of their favorite pastime (gossip, of course). Later, though, a murkier and more disturbing subplot develops, emotions are exploded, and the setting abruptly shifts entirely. An ambiguous ending completes the affair, which manages to entertain despite its lack of sensationalism.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to balance out the recent spate of ’90s flicks – and I’ve lately covered a bunch of modern productions as well – so I sought a picture from the seventies, and this was the one I found.

should you watch this movie?

This is the sort of film that TV stations used to show on lazy weekend afternoons, as very little of it is at all lurid. It’s good, if understated, and definitely of a different era.

highlight and low point

The action takes off when a mysterious young man named “Billy” enters the tale, and I think we can all agree that’s a momentous circumstance. Actually, though, some displays of splendid acting, mainly concerning liminal expressions of emotion, are what impress most. Oddly, it appears this was an edited version of the movie, but I’m not sure any other rendition is readily available.

rating from outer space: B

Els sense nom aka Los sin nombre aka The Nameless aka La secta de los sin nombre (1999)

directed by jaume balaguerÓ
joan ginard p.c./sogedasa

Am I DONE with these ’90s movies yet. (No! There’s one more still to come!) Here we go with more metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, this time involving some sorta evil-worshiping cult whose aim is to … uh … to produce a pure evil being. I guess. I kinda wasn’t paying very careful attention, having been distracted by fragmentary flashbacks (à la Haunts) that for some reason made me think of Jacob’s Ladder – while also being discomfited by descriptions of the baddies’ philosophy that veered a little too close to that espoused in Martyrs, a movie of which I do not wish to do much contemplating or revisiting. All the rest of it is police-procedural-horror-mystery mashup, occasionally leavened by the inelegantly dubbed (and somewhat inaccurate) dialogue, and abrupt edits that provoked thoughts of rerelease abridgement. And with all of THAT being said, the end note still is fiendishly sour … but by the time it’s sounded, it doesn’t reverberate enough. Alas.

why did i watch this movie?

Remember when I started my quixotic quest to catch up on scary movies from the 1990s? I made a looooooooong list.

should you watch this movie?

You have seen a lotta pictures very similar to this one.

highlight and low point

Some of the action involves the exciting world of print journalism, so that was a plus for me personally. The conclusion, though fairly predictable, was also a bit more twisted than expected, but also exemplified one of this flick’s biggest problems. The existence of the weirdo title sect is given little attention and next to no development, which robs the production of its best opportunity to strike chills in the hearts of mortals (or equivalent). All the lip service paid to Nazis and theories of EVIL and this-and-that is mundane wasted exposition.

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+

Cronos (1993)

written and directed by guillermo del toro
producciones iguana/ventana films/consejo nacional para la cultura y las artes/instituto mexicano de cinematografÍa/universidad de guadalajara/calidad cinematogrÁfica

Del Toro’s more widely known productions often invoke the term “fantasy,” but as I usually avoid anything with that description, it’s a good thing for me that enough macabre elements comprise this film for it to pass muster. Essentially a tale of the attempt to subvert the natural order of things, its tone throughout matches most of its set pieces for darkness. Structured not unlike a classical tragedy, both its vision and theme are somewhat morbid and fatalistic. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at the outset, but overall it proved to be a captivating work. Alchemy, an antiquarian, magical Renaissance artifacts, vampirism, resurrection (of a character named Jesus, of course), attempts to cheat death, death, murder, attempted murder … and a little girl named “Aurora.” Which certainly couldn’t be symbolism.

why did i watch this movie?

I constructed a long list of ’90s movies to watch, and made sure to include this one because it was Del Toro’s debut feature.

should you watch this movie?

A wealthy dying man seeks a mystical device to prolong his existence, but someone else has already succumbed to its seductive powers. Struggles ensue. 94 minutes. Subtitled.

highlight and low point

It highly amused me that this flick contained elements or motifs of the only other Del Toro works I’d seen: insects and the insectile (1997’s Mimic), and Ron Perlman (2004’s Hellboy, which terrestrial television often used to show in the wee hours during a period when I was both chronically underemployed and overly intoxicated). More attention could have been paid to the history of the mysterious device, and how one of the parties got hold of its instruction manual. Indeed, character development is not this picture’s strength.

rating from outer space: b+

Pizza (2014)

directed by akshay akkineni
UTV Spotboy/getaway films

This Indian production, a clever and stylish feature, is unfortunately too clever by half. The revelations that follow a somewhat arduous setup are more than less a cop-out, and as the SHOCKING finale meanders its way to the screen, it provokes not only disbelief but a couple very big questions that are impossible to ignore. This is in addition to the fact that the rather lengthy middle portion of the action itself raises a query or two as it transpires – deservedly so, as it turns out. Though it’s mostly enjoyable anyway, in the end this picture is a little too dependent on its comedic values and doesn’t maintain its attempted eeriness well enough. And it just don’t add up.

why did i watch this movie?

Its offbeat title, which does not suggest terror, drew my interest, and when I found out it’s actually a remake of a 2012 film, I had to know more. (Somehow, I missed that the 2012 flick was helmed by Karthik Subbaraj, who was responsible for last year’s Mercury.)

should you watch this movie?

You may well lose your patience during the previously described middle movement, or be exasperated by the wrap-up and finale. I’ll get back to you about the original at some later date.

highlight and low point

Several of the musical numbers in this picture serve as diagesis, including the catchy tune during the ridiculous animated title sequence, but I think my favorite factor is the unexplained origin of Slices of Mumbai’s “Pizzaria Napolitana” setting. As hinted at several times, the resolution is unwelcome and more than a little hackneyed, although I suppose credit is due for the filmmakers resisting the urge to double down on the supernatural element … until the dubious conclusion, anyway.

rating from outer space: C+