Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

directed by brian yuzna
wild street pictures/re-animator iI productions

Even before the extravagant reprise of the first film’s opening credits sequence, I feared that this picture would be too obviously a sequel, as all the signs were there. Indeed, moments of one-upmanship pertaining to certain effects, scenarios and locations are present throughout, but the director mostly manages to evade scenes of blatant repetition and also avoids the cardinal sin of reductionism. Even so, at moments it threatens to get a little too cutesy, the parallelism to Bride of Frankenstein doesn’t quite work, and the inclusion of Dr. Hill’s head at times feels forced (and for a while appears to have been forgotten). When things really get dicey near the ending, however, it is about as uncomfortably eerie and threatening as one could reasonably hope from a Lovecraft adaptation, and it succeeds, humor and all. I did not expect this one to be this good – and maybe it isn’t – but Jeffrey Combs delivers enough of a tour de force to make fine assessment meaningless.

why did i watch this movie?

The original was terrific, and I’m still catching up on the 1990s.

should you watch this movie?

Respectable or not, it IS a sequel.

highlight and low point

The portrayal of Herbert West, as noted above, is splendid, and one observation he deadpans in the latter portion of the flick is laugh-out-loud funny.  Bruce Abbott and Claude Earl Jones also deliver worthy performances. Strong motivation is lacking on behalf of many of the characters, though, and if you’re not caught up in the zaniness, you might begin to see right through the flimsy premise.

I mean, presuming you’d be of a mind to take a production of this nature that seriously.

rating from outer space: B+

the credits thank “Mary Wollenscraft Shelly”

(and Tenzing Norgay)

The Basement (2017)

directed by laszlo illes
intergalactic productions/pannonia pictures

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before – a group of friends is harassed and stalked by masked assailants in a confined location, and it might be supernatural in nature. All right, that’s a little bit unfair to this flick mostly situated under the streets of Budapest, because the group are the intruders, even if the entrance to THE BASEMENT was open, so … Atmospheric, on occasion aptly frightful, verging on ominous, this generically likable picture never really overcomes its setup, even if it does expand the parameters a bit. For instance, the members of the group never really agree with each other about what it is they may be facing. Their shared confusion is welcome, as is the fact that one of the characters keeps telling the others they’re being stupid. Also, though one gets the sense that the script may not be playing totally fair, it doesn’t egregiously break the rules, either, always leaving just enough room for doubt. That, however, doesn’t quite suffice, and it never becomes really gripping. It also shares its name with an American film made the same year that doesn’t sound much more inventive.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s Hungarian. I do not think I’d seen a Hungarian film since Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky’s Werckmeister Harmonies … a long time ago. (I think that’s the one that sums up 2.5 hours of misery with the observation “Nothing means anything.”)

should you watch this movie?

“There is no there there.”

highlight and low point

Most of this picture is in English, and though supposedly subtitled, did not translate the random Hungarian dialogue – an intriguing touch. The comically blatant “Vitamin Water” product placement worsts the contorted attempt to avoid revealing the film’s core banality too soon.

rating from outer space: C

 

 

Ghostkeeper (1981)

directed by james makichuk
badland pictures

Early in this film, the viewer is treated to more than a few meandering shots of nothing in particular that go on for a little too long, in lieu of any action. (Such shots also recur toward the end.) Primarily concerned with mood, the first third of this flick focuses on a subset of what we’re told is a New Year’s holiday group outing in the wilds of Canada, an unsteady troika consisting of a couple plus a third wheel who seems to have more on her mind. Though the tryst we expect never occurs, despite the promising setup of a bathtub scene, two of the smarmy city slickers do rub the small-town folk the wrong way. Meanwhile, hints are made of mental instability in the partnered woman’s past – this is obviously foreshadowing – and as the first victim is claimed, things start getting weird. Though we never get much explanation about what, exactly, is the entity being “kept,” the resolution we expect is preceded by some unforeseen developments. Altogether, this no-budget obscurity is pretty effective and surprisingly enjoyable – even with all the interminable shots of people floundering around in deep snow.


why did i watch this movie?

It tangentially has a “New Year’s Eve” theme.

should you watch this movie?

While I wouldn’t recommend that you race right out to the “video store,” if you stumble across it you’ll probably get a kick out of it.


highlight and low point

Actually, my favorite thing was lead actress Riva Spier’s disdainful attitude. I also enjoyed the scenes involving snowshoeing, as you don’t come across those very often. It was dismaying to find out that had he the budget, the director would have ruined this film completely with an ending that was “a whole lot bigger.”

rating from outer space: b+

The Invisible Man (1933)

directed by james whale
universal pictures

Although hampered at times by a bit of slapstick and what feels like leftover vaudeville attributes, and a little too enamored of the photographic trickery by which the effects of the invisible antagonist are achieved – though it’s hard to fault them for that – this SF tale of the inexplicable manages both to convey more tension than you might figure and to be downright creepy at times. When the title character first reveals his condition, it’s pretty disturbing, even as you are obviously prepared for it 85 years later. And at least one other scene along the way provides more than a bit of a shock, albeit tempered a bit by the fact that it is unmistakably done with miniatures. Claude Rains gets top billing for a role which he performs mostly by voice alone, and his dialogue ratchets up the intensity and insanity as this picture progresses. All in all, this one rather deservedly can be called a classic, and remains a significant precursor to more than one film genre.

why did i watch this movie?

The Invisible Man occupies the second slot on Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

In discussing classic horror with others, it repeatedly arose that most had never seen this picture. I hadn’t, either, and honestly never had much interest, figuring I was familiar with the story – despite the fact that I’d also never read the novel. I’m glad I’ve now rectified this oversight.

highlight and low point

As alluded above, a few too many shots here feature things flying around by themselves and people reacting in astonishment or fright. The representation of malevolence by the title character reaches the pinnacle, highlighted by curt pronouncements such as “At 10 o’clock tomorrow night, I shall kill you.”

rating from outer space: B+

a poignant deathbed scene

Maniac (1980)

directed by william lustig
magnum motion pictures INc.

Can I call this a disappointment if I watched it thinking it would be a scuzzy, nothing exploitation slasher with paper-thin intent and slapdash execution, but instead discovered a well-crafted picture of surprising depth and real pathos made with a skillful hand? Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question. But despite a number of moments that could have turned this flick into a groaner, the poignant portrayal of the title character proves redemptive. Obviously inspired by the Son of Sam killings, with a handful of details provided by other notorious murder sprees, this film’s account of title psychopath Frank’s travails leavens its less credible portions with an intermittent awareness of his humanity. (How self-aware Frank is, however, remains an open question.) Lead actor and co-writer Joe Spinell’s creation is disturbingly credible, and in context, the more fantastic notions are not hindered by their implausibility.

why did i watch this movie?

I’ll reiterate: give the picture a title as blatant and evocative as “Maniac,” and I’ll think about giving it a whirl.

should you watch this movie?

So, you are aware that I like this type of film from this general era, so when I say yes, you probably know how to weight that advice.

highlight and low point

Are you, by any chance, familiar with the cover art for the Big Black EP that came packaged in the “body bag,” Headache? (Careful with that link, Eugene.) Yeah, well, there’s a scene in this movie that is extremely reminiscent of that delightful image, courtesy of makeup guru Tom Savini. One slight drawback is the dubious relationship that forms the core of the plot. Another is that the main character evoked for me Lester Bangs crossed with Lew Zealand.

Lew

Lester

Rating from outer space: A−

Note: Maniac received the remake treatment in 2012. Update to follow …

 

 

Mortuary (1983)

directed by howard avedis
hickmar productions, inc.

I’m going to reference it again, so let’s just go ahead with a shout-out to Hanna-Barbera: They knew what they were doing when they produced Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? You see, when viewing productions such as this somewhat lethargic attempt at a murder mystery, tropes commonplace to those cartoons continually arise. Here, dashes of occult nonsense and some bitchin’ early ’80s Southern Cal touches are added to the template. A scare or two possibly may be found somewhere in this tale of (ominous pause) madness, but you’ll most likely be too busy laughing at some of the affectations – or more probably starting to doze off as the plot chugs along repetitiously. It could have worked, I suppose, but there just isn’t a whole lot to work with, to its detriment. Oh – hackneyed freeze-frame “surprise” at the ending. Woo-hoo.

why did i watch this movie?

As I’ve mentioned before, I have this fixation on trying to find movies featuring people who have to spend the night in tombs, sepulchres, crypts and so forth. This is NOT such a movie, as I may have entirely imagined the category, but I couldn’t pass on it anyway.

should you watch this movie?

It does not feature anyone trying to spend the night at any sort of gravesite.

It’s also not very interesting.

highlight and low point

Early in the proceedings, the two leads go to a roller rink (check the year of release) with the enticing name of “Skating Plus.” FUN FACT: A “Skating Plus” currently operates in Ventura, but has only been open since 1984 so it cannot be the same venue. Speaking of the early ’80s, it’s never a good sign when the end credits of a movie give “1981” as its provenance though it didn’t see release until March of ’83.

rating from outer space: D+

proper tool storage