Smile (2022)

Written and Directed by Parker Finn
Temple Hill Entertainment

Don’t misconstrue what I’m about to say – but this film was kind of a letdown. See, it has one of the most effective and audacious pre-title sequences of anything I’ve seen any time recently (or ever), the kind that left me babbling aloud incoherently. If the entirety could somehow have sustained that, well, it would’ve been an all-timer. It couldn’t, of course, and so it isn’t, but regardless of its well-noted weaknesses, this picture remains an effective and intense depiction of one woman’s deteriorating mental space (and relationships, and existence). That there were many possibilities for what direction this production could have gone added to its impact, even if the route it chose was less than satisfying … though that’s open to interpretation, befitting the story. Feel free to ascribe to it your preferred symbolic framework.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I saw a commercial for it – you know, with the creepy woman. That’s all it took. Sometimes I’m an easy sell.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

Those who are less forgiving than me may find it too derivative at times, or too predictable at others, and yes, it leans very heavily on jump scares. (Despite all that, it sustained my interest.)

HIghlight and Low Point

I don’t think it’s out of the question that this pic could be read as being all in its protagonist’s mind – and indeed, it seems as though the filmmaker wants to encourage that suspicion with his prolific use of skewed or inverted camera angles. (Upside down equaling CRAZEE, etc.) The main character’s name is “Rose,” and when she finally meets the EVIL in its penultimate form, it looks a lot like “Marilyn Manson.” You can call that a coincidence, sure.

Rating From Outer Space: B−

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Directed by Damiano Damiani
Dino De Laurentiis Corporation

Ordinarily I have some inkling of how to start these pieces, but I confess, for this title I am somewhat at a loss. A prequel-of-sorts before such a thing became to a degree de rigueur for the horror film franchise – and not blameless in the rise of the horror film franchise itself, come to think of it – this ridiculous would-be epic shamelessly borrows from its, um, successor while also brazenly aping The Exorcist (or any of its already plentiful ripoffs). Along the way, it manages to toss in some hilarious disrespect to Church figures, the least believable courtroom scene since Night Court The Bonfire of the Vanities, a complicated incestuous relationship between siblings, spousal and child abuse, body horror, schlock FX, a priest kidnapping a patient from a hospital with police assistance, evil voice instructions, an “Indian burial ground,” and nearly everything else you could think of except red herrings and space aliens. An impressive accomplishment, really.

Why Did I Watch This MOvie?

I wish I could recall … something I was reading about another film led me to a synopsis of this one, and it provoked me. Because it sounded so lurid, I should add.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

It plays the way I figure a spoof of the “Scary Movie” ilk would. Fewer laffs, probably.


Highlight and Low Point

In what I can only term a dubiously satisfying twist, this picture’s fairly shameless imitation of possessed-person tropes from William Friedkin’s 1973 original offering is repaid fully by Exorcist III‘s borrowing of this flick’s jailhouse colloquies. Burt Young’s patriarch refers to the priest as “Priest,” as though it’s his name. At times, the house and “Sonny” seem simultaneously bewitched, enhancing the (everything-but-the) kitchen-sink undertakings. Kitchen sink included!

Rating From Outer Space:

Halloween Ends (2022)

Directed by David Gordon Green
Trancas International Films/Rough House Pictures/Universal Pictures/Miramax/Blumhouse

You remember in the remake of Friday the 13th how Jason had that underground lair? Well, Mikey Myers sorta has one of those in this idiotic picture, which additionally curries some Final Chapter/New Beginning zest. Which I guess is fitting, since this rebooted trilogy tried so hard to make “Michael” into J. Voorhees anyway. Most of Jamie Lee Curtis’s scenes are borderline unwatchable in this edition – allegedly the last of these, so we don’t have to pretend we’re interested anymore – and the voiceover narration of her (terrible) “book” is embarrassing. (Her minimal interactions with other cast members seem largely perfunctory as well.) Even for an endeavor that at best was going to be derivative and pandering, this release feels insipid, just one pat scene after another. And as usual, if you bother to think about any of it, it only gets dumber.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Title, date, obstinacy.

 
Should You Watch This MOvie?

The afternoon of the 31st, I listened to the Dead Kennedys album Plastic Surgery Disasters, in tribute to recently deceased drummer D.H. Peligro, because it contains the song “Halloween.” Coincidentally, a bar-party scene in this film features the two main characters dancing to that very same song.

Highlight and Low Point

I presume the (FOUR!) “writers” didn’t intend any anti-bullying message, especially given the namby-pamby transference BS they include. Reconfiguring the whole conceit of “The Shape” may be a halfway decent idea, or it just may be my transposition of their muddle. That Mike is something of an enfeebled afterthought here could be considered incisive commentary on the bogeyman-as-cipher … but isn’t played that way. The bottom line remains: no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

Rating From Outer Space: D−

They/Them (2022)

Written And Directed By John Logan
Bh/Desert Wolf

You know, if you’re a horror movie kinda person, you might make some general allowances for films made in your preferred idiom. For example, imagine, oh, I don’t know … maybe a “slasher” flick that takes place at … oh, let’s say a “camp.” With such a familiar setup, you therefore might reasonably expect certain motifs, themes, tropes, what-have-you. And when all the stuff you more or less expect happens, it’s more or less what you’re willing to accept.

Except familiarity breeds contempt, and in this made-for-TV “Peacock original,” there are multiple problems. After the not-unforeseeable reveal is, well, revealed, it just doesn’t pass muster, a literally unbelievable gaffe that’s a disastrous last choice for Their underwhelming genre attempt.

I had higher hopes for this picture. I did appreciate the mild pronoun joke (poorly aped just above). And though I’ll grant that one must start somewhere in working out how to approach broadening the scope of flicks like these, this attempt mainly just shoehorns orientation/gender topics into an unimaginative template. I began this piece by pointing out my willingness to play along, but – ironically enough – this production mainly comes across like it’s not sure what it really wants to be.

Uninspired even by stock horror standards, it feels as though it was written around its cliché bonding moment – a musical number.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

In another review, I suggested a “slasher movie where the trans character breaks the usual archetype,” and imagined that potential addressed here.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Spoiler alert: It doesn’t come close, but one character (“Jordan”) takes a tentative step.


Highlight and Low Point

HEY DIDJA KNOW THE TITLE’S PRONOUNCED “THEY SLASH THEM”


That attempted witticism’s not even an accurate synopsis!

Rating From OUter SPace: D+

Day of the Dead (1985)

Written and Directed by George a. Romero
A Laurel Production

I didn’t watch it for this express purpose, but this flick has given me some good tips for becoming a doomsday prepper, which feels like a good idea as this country I live in lurches a few steps closer to becoming a full-fledged theocracy. (I also didn’t watch it explicitly to follow one “master of horror” with another, but who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men. Besides the so-called “supreme” court that has been hijacked by conservative ideologues doing the bidding of a dwindling but ever-powerful junta of allegedly “Christian” demagogues, that is.) ANYway, during the first 20 minutes or so of this picture I was dubious, and during the final 25 minutes or so I was but merely periodically amused, but somewhere in the middle I remarked to myself, “Hey, this is actually really good!” For which I must credit primarily the script and its depictions of both the growing interpersonal discord and the standoff between brain and brawn. That latter dualism being multifaceted, of course. As for the dissension in the ranks of the “good guys”? Any resemblance to actual persons or actual events is purely coincidental.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I’d never seen it, and it sounded like a good idea.


Should You Watch This Movie?

It feels unfortunately timely. Not as much as this, but …


Highlight and Low Point

I think this installment may answer my question about the undead’s insatiable hunger. Apparently, their only necessary organ is the brain, and as demonstrated by Dr. “Frankenstein” Logan, it retains vestigial information. So in a sense, the urge to eat is more or less a habit (or addiction, if you prefer).

We’ll just conveniently forget that they also bleed.

Rating From Outer Space: B

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)

Directed by David Blue Garcia
Legendary Pictures/Bad Hombre/Exurbia Films

Goddamn, will somebody tell me why they keep making these movies. Battling itself for its first 30 minutes as to whether it preferred to be more inane or more annoying, this mess produced by the once-promising Fedé Alvarez is said to have taken its modernist cues from the ongoing rebooting of Halloween. Sure, I guess “Hey, you know that thing that sucks? Let’s double down on it” is a possible approach one can take, but ideas like that haven’t held as much appeal for me since I quit drinking 10 years ago. But at least there’s a bona fide chainsaw massacre in this one! For about ⅔ of this picture’s mercifully brief running time (barely 75 minutes) I was angry my intelligence was being so demeaned, but then I just started laughing at the idiocy (mine perhaps included). This is a deeply stupid and lazy undertaking, and really tips its cap to its inspiration by giving ol’ Leatherface a Voorhees factor of at least 40. Way to go?

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I didn’t even know this garbage existed until my brother asked me about it on NFL Football Championship Sunday. Then I unwisely looked into it.

Should You Watch This Movie?

This film proudly trumpets that it’s been “50 years” since the original events … yet good ol’ Leatherface appears to be barely older than 50 himself. His fountain of youth is not mentioned. And his chainsaw looks fine and is rip-roarin’ ready to go despite … you know what, don’t
even bother.

Highlight and Low Point

“Sally Hardesty” carries around an allegedly old Polaroid of her long-lost chums and brother. The producer claims this storyline can encompass all the rest. Sarah Yarkin and Elsie Fisher are somewhat unconventional leads.

 
Rating From Outer Space:

Scream (2022)

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Spyglass Media Group/Project X/Radio Silence

Half tired and half inspired, this not-a-reboot (wink, wink) is not exactly too clever by half, but its orientation seems to want it to be. An amusing discussion of the good and bad of the modern horror film and the rules involved – you know, all that “Scream” stuff – works well enough, but the endless diatribes connected to the final reveal are tedious – and present one of the most egregious examples of the trope wherein the evildoer(s) just keep talking and talking about their brilliant plan and motives and so on and so on and so on. Scorecard: someone you won’t expect to die does, the identities of the killer aren’t a terribly big surprise (and the movie itself points out that you know there’s more than one), the convoluted ties established between the characters’ roots and pasts and their relationships to the “Stab” franchise probably push past acceptable levels, and yeah … it’s a Scream, what else would you expect.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I mean, I’ve seen the rest of ’em. And a shload of the raft of those that followed in the wake of the original to boot. (My “favorite” was The Faculty, should you be wondering.)


Should You Watch This Movie?

You’ve certainly got your choice of “legacy” titles these days, don’t you.

 
Highlight and Low Point

I don’t wanna spoil nothin’ for ya, but not for the first time in the franchise is it off-putting that “Ghostface” is always the same size no matter who winds up having been portraying “him.” (It especially beggars belief during the hospital confrontation.) Whether the guilty characters actually could have been responsible is another question, but I don’t care enough to investigate.

Rating From Outer Space: C−

Stage Fright (2014)

Written and Directed by Jerome Sable
Music & Lyrics by Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion
Serendipity Point Films

A slasher horror comedy, which also happens to be a musical, this ridiculously over-the-top production doesn’t seem to have rated very highly in the world of apparently overserious movie-raters. And hey, I’m guilty as anyone of frequently missing the point, or not “getting it” – whatever the “it” in question may be for a given flick – but this is a very amusing picture chock-full of however many touchstones you’d care to notice. And have I mentioned it’s a musical? A meta musical at that, set at a theater camp for theater kids, with heavy family drama at its center. (Or is it … TRAGEDY?) It’s got obnoxious characters, classic tropes, red herrings, a tongue in its cheek and a song in its heart, and scads of gore. The show must go on! Will the playhouse be saved? Someone check on the cast.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I selected this title because I thought I’d previously considered watching it, but once it began, I wasn’t so sure that had been the case.

Should You Watch This Movie?

You know, it has come to my attention that some folks don’t particularly LIKE horror comedies. And I know musicals aren’t necessarily a preference for many viewers besides. So if it helps at all, the storyline here doesn’t make a whole lotta
                                                                             sense, either.

Highlight and Low Point

The songs are frequently hilarious, provocatively stereotyping theater nerds and the like. The late Meat Loaf has one of the major roles, and I found it at least a little surprising that his singing comes across weakly, given how he found fame and all. Most of what’s clever here lies in
the picayune.

Rating From Outer Space: B+

Creature aka Titan Find (1985)

Directed by William Malone
Trans World Entertainment

A fairly shameless ripoff/amalgam of Alien and The Thing – I mean, you’ll be thinking this long before one of the characters actually mentions the latter damn movie herself – this picture also has the dubious distinction of being yet another low-budget would-be space epic, hampered at many a turn by the hokey FX, budget sets and blatant matte paintings. (The spacesuits themselves are nearly unbelievably ersatz; they’re the cinematic equivalent of those packaged drugstore Halloween costumes with the vinyl one-piece tunics and molded plastic masks.) Despite such shortcomings, however, it’s a not-ineffective thriller. Even with its shameful title monster, which I neglected to mention in my list of detriments up there. Add all of those ingredients and you get a “cult classic,” which status allegedly has accrued to this flick. Hey, why not. Fun fact: There’s a Director’s Cut, and I plan to watch it. Eventually.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

It looked and sounded both preposterous and intriguing … especially the whole “director’s cut” thing. That’s ONE way to pique one’s interest in an underfinanced production of which one otherwise never has heard.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Clearly, my taste is highly questionable, but I did already admit I intend to watch another version of this film. So it must have something going for it.


Highlight and Low Point

Klaus Kinski appears in this, and I’ve had a difficult time enjoying his acting since reading of allegations at least one of his children has made – so it’s especially alarming that he first makes his presence known by graphically groping and assaulting one of the female crewmembers … purportedly an unscripted, um, ad-lib. Oh, and the alien itself is a somewhat hilariously unintimidating letdown, given the mostly effective buildup.

Rating From Outer Space: B

Invaders From Mars (1986)

Directed by TOBE HOOPER
Golan-Globus

Surprisingly entertaining despite some significant drawbacks – chief among them the extremely subpar performance of the lead child actor and some pacing/editing issues – this remake of a 1950s film I haven’t seen showcases director Tobe Hooper’s flair for understated comedic touches, although as usual I have less than no use for the references, homages, and tips of the cap to other movies and/or genres and/or directors. (Which is why I only know about them from online “research.”) What little plot there is – Martians think a NASA/SETI launch is an invasion, so they travel to Earth to preempt it – largely managed to evade my notice, as the few moments of expository dialogue aren’t exactly Pulitzer material. Decent creature and FX work abound, alongside some dependable B-movie performances from the likes of Karen Black, Louise Fletcher and James Karen. Incidentally, the hints of creeping/creepy conformity would in the original have predated those in Invasion of the Body Snatchers by several years.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I’ve always heard that this was an above-average offering, especially given its somewhat dubious provenance.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Sure, if you’d like to relive the experience of watching a network television “Movie of the Week” or late-night basic cable.

Highlight and Low Point

The FX really are fairly exemplary, notwithstanding the somewhat absurdist design of the majority of the Martians themselves. Hunter Carson is a severe detraction (if not distraction) as David Gardner, though in his defense, he was 10 when the film was released and his mother’s also in the cast. (That being Karen Black, who plays the credulous school nurse.) I mean, look, it’s a Cannon Films remake of a 1950s B movie. That statement more or less sums up the overall experience.

Rating From Outer Space: B