Sadistic Intentions (2019)

written & directed by eric pennycoff
midnight treehouse/feast & bourbon films/alexander groupe/79th & Broadway entertainment

Plot twists, or maybe thematic twists, are pretty much this film’s modus operandi, and for the most part, they’re not all that predictable – and even the ones that are receive a little tweak. At about three-quarters of the way through this fable, I thought that what may have been intended to be some sort of dark comedy was about to veer into a disturbing realm that few films ever broach. Such a move would have been disheartening, nay, dispiriting, and it was with a palpable sense of dread that I waited to see if the director had chosen that path. Nope. He didn’t entirely cop out, either, however, so that was refreshing. But – this could have become a really remarkable examination of how things can spiral out of control and seemingly ordinary people can become trapped by circumstances and wind up making absolutely terrible, life-shattering decisions. In one sense, it still is, only the profound lack of empathy at its core finishes much differently. The actual ending is disconcertingly funny in its own special way.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, the trailer was intriguing, though I wavered for quite a while because I had envisioned something more ironic and postmodern.

should you watch this movie?

A guy invites over his bandmate and a prospective drug buyer; they don’t know each other. And where is he, anyway?

highlight and low point

Right, there’s only three people in this picture, and two of them are tremendous. The third, however, basically channels Crispin Glover, which is fairly distracting. This T-shirt, however, was jaw-dropping:

I haven’t been so envious in a long time. Oh, yeah – this movie involves death metal, mostly as a framing device.

rating from outer space: B+

The Slayer aka Nightmare Island (1982)

directed by j. s. cardone
the international picture show company

For a flick with a ridiculously uninspired setup – two couples go to a remote island, where someone or something is bumping them off one by one – this small-time production winds up delivering a lot more than one would expect. I don’t think I’d go quite so far as to believe the claim that cineastes have long debated the manifold interpretations available to the ambiguous ending – how many people have even heard of this picture? – but although one’s immediate reaction to the final scene might be to feel a bit cheated, further reflection possibly may assuage such a response. It could also exacerbate it, of course, and hey, now I’m merging with those ca(s)hiers du cinéma(rt). Better than it should have been.


why did i watch this movie?

It’s called “The Slayer,” and it’s from 1982. Quod erat demonstrandum.


should you watch this movie?

It’s really more  of a character study than you’d be excused for expecting from a 1982 film called “The Slayer,” and kept reminding me of The Mutilator – which it predates – most likely because of the beachfront property.

highlight and low point

As Kay, Sarah Kendall gives audiences a pretty good indication of why they would never see her in anything ever again, but either her blank stares and flatness of affect eventually begin to seem more suitable or the dramatics of the rest of the movie overpower the urge to keep laughing. Kay’s an artist, which makes for an indefensibly inane analogy: though the plot here is akin to a paint-by-numbers kit, the end result is pleasing to the eye. The relationships between and among the couples are convincingly natural, and the final two minutes of this feature are a veritable tour de force.

rating from outer space: B+

Beware My Brethren aka The Fiend (1972)

produced and directed by robert hartford-davis
world arts media (uk) Ltd.

Allegedly expurgated of at least 10 minutes of footage, this not very convincing religious psychodrama actually gets better as it goes along, which I’ve found is often a rarity in this field. Then again, it couldn’t have gotten much worse without being rejected, so that’s maybe not such a compliment, all told. Often reminiscent of a stage play in its dialogue and blocking and static cinematography, there’s a paradox at work here. Before the script opens up to encompass more than the stultifying world of the religious cult at its center, it’s tiresome, but without focusing more clearly on the dynamics within that cult later in the picture, it wouldn’t have been able to reach any sort of definitive point. Taken altogether – the proof of the pudding, perhaps, as regards the purported excisions – it’s a feature with a few loose ends and not a whole lot to say. Middling, at best.

why did i watch this movie?

I guess the allure of a religious cult leading to madness and death? I seem to recall thinking this flick would be more lurid than it was, though I don’t know where I got that idea.

should you watch this movie?

On websites that cater to low-budget productions that nobody remembers, you may occasionally find testimony to this film’s worthiness. But I don’t know.

highlight and low point

During services, the proceedings occasionally suggest it’s about to turn into a musical, which is definitely a different feel. The Brethren don’t feel all that outrageous to me in their demands, but I myself was raised in a religious cult (the Roman Catholic Church), so my perspective may be skewed. Certainly, ensuing sectarian events would make their actions seem tame.

rating from outer space: C

Nightmares (1983)

directed by joseph sargent
universal

Allegedly produced for NBC TV, though for what, or which anthology series, seems to be in dispute – you can’t trust Wikipedia and I’ve noticed IMDb is far from infallible as well, but let’s ignore for the moment any debate about notions of authority in this exciting modern age – this set of four short vignettes isn’t bereft of effective moments, even if nothing gets visceral or even very threatening, in keeping with its origins. (Aside from the third segment, “The Benediction,” which features some intense moments courtesy of its classic tale of a “duel” on the highway with an unidentified motorized antagonist.) Otherwise, the first segment is piffle, and too short to build any momentum, the second features Emilio Estevez echoing notions of Tron with a ripping punk soundtrack, and the final chapter – which further makes use of Black Flag’s “Louie Louie” – is capped with wild-kingdom FX highly reminiscent of the end of Devil Dog. Strictly for nostalgists.


why did i watch this movie?

It’s one of the “roles” on Lee Ving’s dossier.


should you watch this movie?

The renditions of classic FEAR tunes heard during “The Bishop of Battle” are not the versions from The Record. That’s what I thought upon hearing them, anyway, and the end credits appear to bear out my impression.

highlight and low point

This picture really isn’t that bad, but even for episodic horror it feels slight. None of the tales have any kind of staying power, regardless of content or execution. Honestly, it would have worked far better delivered by cathode ray tube. Estevez is pretty good, Lance Henriksen is solid, Richard Masur is convincing, and the late Bridgette Anderson turns in one of the better
performances you’re likely to see by a 7-year-old.

rating from outer space: C−

Bit (2019)

written and directed by brad michael elmore
provocator/thirty 06 productions

So, the general premise here – young person seeking definition finds group of vampire peers – may not sound very fresh and exciting, but … the hook is that the young person is transgender, and the vampires are militant feminist lesbians. Hey, you got your polemics in my genre picture! (Men in particular take it on the chin here.) And I almost skipped over it just because that description sounds like a bit of a forced narrative. As I’m a cis male, though, maybe my perspective is skewed. But I AM gonna grumble that it’s set in L.A.. How come no young person can find fulfillment in a coming-of-age tale of self-discovery set in, like, Dubuque? Or Des Moines, perfect example. Ultimately, there’s no real empowerment message here, and in fact I’d wager there’s an anti-defamation group or two out there just stewing, alongside the fundamentalists. Hell, in one reading, the transgender arc can be spun as negative . Either way, the conversation happened, ya dig. This picture did remind me of The Lost Boys, though, which could be a troubling sign since I’ve never even seen it.


why did i watch this movie?

A spot of banter in the trailer.


should you watch this movie?

No fooling, if you like to debate coded messages, you could have a fun time with this one.


highlight and low point

Despite the clunky and perhaps cliché setup, and pointedly misandrist diatribes notwithstanding, the LGBTQIA+ bent didn’t strike me as a contrivance … because it isn’t presented as such. That the embodiment of the central metaphor is allowed to have personality flaws instead of bearing the standard of wishcasting idealism is instructive. Which doesn’t preclude the potential for friendly fire from obstinate axegrinders, unfortunately.

Rating from outer space: B

Diabolicamente… Letizia aka Sex, Demons and Death (1975)

directed by salvatore bugnatelli
b.r.c. international films

An incoherent mess, badly restored from scraps and thus chock-full of abrupt transitions and missing moments – and clumsily subtitled to boot – it’s doubtful this picture could have been any better in pristine original condition. Letizia is supposed to be a boarding school student; she clearly isn’t. She exercises some sort of nefarious mind control, mainly to direct others’ sexual urges while someone takes blackmail photos, but also occasionally to create terrifying visions to torment her prey. Not even a hint of why she may be doing any of this is given until the very end, and it seems made up out of whole cloth. Despite the titillating alternate title, no demons seem to be involved, and the deaths are all extremely unconvincing. Sex there’s plenty of, and we could have a healthy debate about the apparent (offscreen) gangbang scene, how it may tie into the leitmotif of Letizia’s methods of control, and whether it’s related to the climactic niteclub dosing … but that would be giving this rubbish way more credit – and thought – than it deserves, by a long chalk. One may as well have a semiotic debate centered on Bert & Ernie.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, I try to keep things as high-minded as possible around here, given that all I do is scribble out 300-word capsule reviews of the products of a typically lowbrow art form, but you know I’m not ignoring a title like this one.


should you watch this movie?

I mean, I can’t stop you.


highlight and low point

The delicate interplay between Magda Konopka’s overacting and Franca Gonella’s somnambulant performance is a study in contrasts. Fittingly, that sentence means nothing. Oh, I neglected to mention Letizia’s occultist trainer? That’s too bad.

rating from outer space: f

Mirror Mirror (1990)

directed by marina sargenti
orphan eyes

It’s not too promising that I must point out that this film is all right up to the point the EVIL starts to run amok. After that it spirals downward in a big hurry, and it almost seems as though the filmmakers didn’t really have a plan for handling that portion of the script. That this flick manages to be any good at all is sort of a minor miracle, given that it’s burdened with plot tendrils that don’t go anywhere in particular, and boasts a lead role consisting largely of a Winona Ryder impersonation. Additional performances are supplied by the erstwhile Lily Munster and the guy who at the time was widely known for playing a yokel on Newhart. (The world was smaller then.) Also, a death-by-hot-shower scene reminiscent of that in Island of Blood occurs concurrently with one of the water polo gym classes, so that’s covered. This movie has three sequels, and although maybe you could see the cockamamie ending of this one meriting a follow-up were you to squint your eyes and hit yourself over the head repeatedly, the serials seem to have little in common save the presence of a demonic looking-glass. (Installment 2, “Raven Dance,” at least appears to share stylistic elements.)

why did i watch this movie?

Much as we’ve all personally wondered so many times, the blurb ponders, “Is the mirror a reflection of Megan’s own inner demons … or has she unwittingly opened the doorway of the damned?”


should you watch this movie?

One character informs another, “We have to close the opening.”


highlight and low point

The blue-filtered shots from the mirror’s POV are pretty nifty. The FX invoking an ill wind are the opposite. Most characters are but mere ciphers.

rating from outer space: C

Beloved Beast (2018)

written & directed by jonathan holbrook
chronicle factory

An independently produced horror picture with a complex if not exactly visionary storyline, this film suffers a bit from some copycat conceptualization, but more from abysmal pacing. It’s not that it’s nearly three (3!) hours long – 2:53:15 – but that the delivery of the dialogue is too deliberate by half. There’s no rhythm or carry to the conversations; everyone seems to be a half-beat off and a second too slow. This abets some scenes, as a hazy, dark undercurrent runs through much of the operation, but otherwise it can be a bit off-putting. Also, the cinematography often looks cut-rate, too digital, too sharp. And if you wanted, I guess you could quibble with some of the performers’ chops. But! It’s an impressive accomplishment nonetheless: A little girl is orphaned by drunk driving, goes to live with her aunt who couldn’t possibly care less, befriends an escaped mental patient with a proclivity for massacring every living person he encounters. Oh, and there’s a fairy-tale conceit and a nasty crime ring involved, plus a weather-worn and sardonic sense of naturalism. Don’t let my faint praise be too damning.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t recall; it’s been waiting on the list for nigh on a year.

should you watch this movie?

Not if you have an attention deficit.


highlight and low point

The filmmakers – cast, crew and production staff intermingle – delve ever deeper into the more awful side of the oxymoronic term “humankind” without seeming to revel in it for the sake of spectacle. That being said, what should be an unrelentingly bleak experience never quite plunges that low, prodding to the fore some potentially unsettling ruminations on one’s conceptions of compassion and moral judgment. Contains a few passably witty allusions.

rating from outer space: B−

The Old Dark House (1932)

directed by JAMES WHALE
universal pictures

This really happened: nearing the climactic point of this frankly rather goofy haunted-house yarn, I was thinking to myself, “this is kinda reminding me a bit of Burnt Offerings” … and almost immediately a character in the film says, “He wanted, he said, to … to make this house a burnt offering.” Based on a novel that’s claimed to be about “post-WWI disillusionment,” this picture concerns two groups of weary travelers forced by a cataclysmic rainstorm to beg refuge from, yes, an old dark house. (When the initial group knocks on the door, I expected Riff Raff to answer, of course.) From that point on it’s gothic intrigue and highly amusing characterizations, with a little passion and violence tossed in as seasoning. Can you ever judge an artifact such as this without seeing it through the filter of all that’s come since? Maybe, maybe not; either way, and irrespective of whether it’s the first horror-comedy, it’s a blast.

why did i watch this movie?

I came across a reference to the 1963 remake, which sounds terrible but piqued my interest in the original.

should you watch this movie?

It’s about 72 minutes long and easily accessible in the, uh, “public domain.”

highlight and low point

Ernest Thesiger as Horace Femm is worth the price of admission all by himself, and it’s informative to espy the genesis of the many references made to aspects of this adventure across multiple forms of visual media over the decades. (Such as the aforementioned Rocky Horror nod.)  It’s pre-Code, too – another reason I chose it – and there’s at least one exchange of racy innuendo that might surprise. For trivia buffs, it’s Charles Laughton’s first Tinseltown feature and allegedly the source of an unceasing enmity between Karloff and Whale.

rating from outer space: B+

C.H.U.D. (1984)

directed by douglas cheek
bonime associates, ltd.

Well, it’s obviously a disgraceful admission on my part that I didn’t see this the way it was clearly meant to be seen, on videocassette rented from the mom ‘n’ pop (actually, it was just “pop”) establishment down the street from where I lived as a kid. Or anytime since. Somebody should’ve told me it was this rewarding. Honestly, I’m not even sure why I never saw it, except that as a young person I didn’t actually watch many horror movies at all, and maybe because the title eliminates any suspense? Whatever the case, this is low-budget, low-grade horror at a peak, a Reagan-era relic of nuclear panic. Shot under the streets of NYC and laden with intransigent officials, it’s the gritty story of one plucky little guy’s quest to find out why everyone’s disappearing and a truly terrible battle plan hatched far too late to eradicate a horde of deadly mutants. And more! (It’s actually several guys.) Just today I had to defend my pronouncement that this flick is “good.” People, man.

why did i watch this movie?

I owed it to myself.

should you watch this movie?

Act now – don’t hesitate!

highlight and low point

Though this picture is ostensibly about hideous freaks coming outta the sewers, having been spawned there due to government negligence, what makes it enjoyable are the various interactions the normal people have. The scene where The Reverend initially spots the C.H.U.D. participating in what appears to be some sort of rite is intriguing, if scant. (More could have been done with it.) And as a former resident of New York City, I swear, when characters first start winding through the subway tunnels, I could conjure the smell. Now that’s olfactory memory.

rating from outer space: B+