Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

written and directed by Michael Dougherty
bad hat harry productions/legendary pictures

Taking a cue from what seemed a trustworthy source, I made this pic my Halloween viewing this year and was not disappointed. A hearty romp through four (sort of) interrelated stories, spun out in nonchronological fashion and represented in the guise of a comic book, this seasonal offering has a little bit of something for just about everybody: unsuspected killers, party girls, junior pranksters, misbehaving adults, a sour old man, werewolves. Not terribly beholden of any particular era or genre, it manages to tiptoe between reverence and mockery, retro appeal and modern trappings, and is all the better for it. I suppose some could quibble that it’s a little tame, and while that may be a fair assessment, this is good, wholesome family entertainment, so don’t let it dissuade you. (You’d be advised to have a passably peculiar family, though.)

why did i watch this movie?

I needed appropriate Hallows’ Eve entertainment, and the ebook Schlock Treatment by “Duane Bradley” – whose opinion of many other films resonated with me, and who clearly shares my exquisite taste – singled out this production as an accomplished affair that deserved more attention.

should you watch this movie?

I could find little fault with it; it was thoroughly enjoyable.

highlight and low point

Described as an anthology-style picture, it doesn’t much present as one, to its credit. Several layers of subtle misdirection serve the proceedings exceedingly well, as does the filmmaker’s apparent discretion to avoid cheap scares in favor of slower and more evocative development. The humor, too, is more implicit than upfront. The final major portion of the story we’re shown contains what seemed to me a monumental continuity issue, though it doesn’t bear much actual import.

rating from outer space: A−

Schizoid (1980)

written and directed by david paulsen
golan-globus productions/the cannon group, inc.

Another epitomic Cannon film, this “thriller” meanders its way through a murky cityscape in pursuit of its victims, who – oh, wait, that’s what the villain or whatever does, in between the viewer’s visitations to group therapy sessions and glimpses into the fractured home life of Klaus Kinski’s “Dr. Fales” (seriously) and his angst-ridden daughter Alison. A newspaper advice columnist – “Dear Julie” – is ostensibly the lead, and her husband the editor, a couple grizzled detectives and Christopher Lloyd’s questionable handyman flesh out the additional roles. The murder weapon is a large pair of scissors, the suspicious car is yellow, and the women’s lib is, apparently, a fatal error in judgment.

why did i watch this movie?

It was some combination of the names “Klaus Kinski” and “Cannon Films,” I’m relatively certain. The straightforward nomenclature never hurts, either.

should you watch this movie?

I couldn’t really say there’s anything in particular to distinguish this flick from any of the dozens of similar dramatic chillers. Or hundreds, even.

highlight and low point

Early in this picture, Dr. Fales stares at a nearly nude Alison as she’s preparing to shower, which she induces by disrobing while talking to him, but this scene takes on even more disturbing overtones when one realizes Klaus Kinski’s eldest daughter accused him of years of sexual abuse. Christopher Lloyd plays a jerk rather than an eccentric here, Alison is played by Donna “High School Honor Student by Day, Hollywood Hooker by Night” Wilkes (1984’s Angel), and not one but two scenes take place in a hot tub. A decent job is done concealing the killer’s identity, with some suppositions and declarations thereby proving ironically accurate, and a seemingly irrelevant subplot likewise becomes crucial.

rating from outer space: C

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−

Haunted aka The Haunted (1977)

written and directed by michael de gaetano
northaire communications, inc.

Wow, I might owe an apology to a few of the other terrible movies I’ve lambasted, because compared to this abysmal folly, some of them look much better. While nothing could make films like Home Sweet Home and Monster look “good,” compared to this debacle, a relative respectability may be easier to obtain. It’s hard for me to precisely describe this fiasco, because the script is a disaster, the acting atrocious, the concept absurd, and the pacing and editing undisciplined and unstructured. You probably couldn’t write dialogue this poorly if you tried, and its recital is akin to unlettered folks reading cue cards with missing words and disorderly syntax. It’s astonishing. Unbelievably, the filmmaker claimed that budgetary constraints robbed his flick of its brilliant philosophical insights, but with what’s in evidence, that very idea strikes one as utterly asinine.

why did i watch this movie?

This intro doesn’t mention a “phone booth,” but the poster does. Details below!

should you watch this movie?

The fact that is even a possibility says too much about this modern world.

highlight and low point

A “phone booth” was a “box-like kiosk containing a public payphone.” A “public payphone” was – I am not making this up – a coin-operated telephone that stood alone in public spaces, so people could use them to make calls.

In this movie, a “phone booth” is erected in a cemetery for some damn fool reason, and it is claimed that this device allows Abanaki’s Indian spirit to inhabit a terrible English actress, but she never uses the structure until far too late for this to have occurred.

Any claim that reincarnation is involved in this picture is spurious at best.

rating from outer space: F

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 …

 

 

Split (2017)

directed by m. night shyamalan
blinding edge pictures/blumhouse productions

After watching this feature, I think I can better understand the opprobrium I’ve often seen hurled at its director in discussions of his oeuvre. Not that this is a bad movie, mind you; it does what it does fairly well, but it has a … credibility issue. I mean, I found myself not buying the central premise. At all. Don’t get me wrong; I am not denying the possibility of traumatic onset of multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder. The theory involved in this picture, however, takes pseudoscience directly into the realm of the comic book, in my professional opinion. (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor.) Furthermore, I usually am not seeking stories concerning supernatural physical characteristics or characterizations, such as found in superhero or -villain flicks. In addition, I found the scant inserts providing backstory to be both clumsy and stereotyped. THEN it turns out it’s somehow part of a trilogy-of-sorts – or a tripartite narrative, maybe. And it’s also a little too long, if only because it gave me time to realize all this.

why did i watch this movie?

I appreciated Shyamalan’s previous effort, The Visit, and noticed this one receiving positive attention on a few year-end lists.

should you watch this movie?

It’s interesting, but ultimately unbelievable. Upon further reflection, I think it’s supposed to attain that effect … but I think it would best serve an action/thriller audience, and it doesn’t have a whole lot of what generally is termed “action.”

highlight and low point

I would suppose the main attraction of this piece to be the leading performance by James McAvoy, which is presented as though one is to regard it as a tour de force and not a display of ham. The final movement is preposterous.

rating from outer space: c−

The Visit (2015)

directed by m. night shyamalan
blinding edge pictures/blumhouse productions

I can’t judge a movie based on the marketplace opinion of its creator, especially when I’ve only seen one of his other movies (The Sixth Sense), so all I can say about The Visit is what I thought: It works. Quite well, in fact. Granted, the setup of the story is a bit questionable, and as that’s the only reason the developments that follow make any sense whatsoever, it invites a quibble. The SHOCKING twist is very effective, however, and the children are extremely believable in their performances, and the moments where it might be reasonable to entertain serious doubts about the enterprise are explained away with just the right dubious touch. True, it lacks for visceral thrills and seems more of a mild mystery for the bulk of its running time – when it doesn’t play like an out-and-out comedy, that is. Perhaps that abets the impact of the final punchline. Fun for the whole family!

why did i watch this movie?

I actually had little intention of watching this picture, as I couldn’t get a handle on it from cursory glances at its press, but at a certain point I needed something to play so voilà.

should you watch this movie?

I don’t know. Unsettling moments involving the grandparents might seem more troubling to some viewers than ordinary, everyday slasher-type frights. One’s tolerance of younger teenagers may also be a factor in the decision.

highlight and low point

The portrayal of people who are essentially strangers trying to bond over purported family ties is illustrated nicely, and again, the young actors do a very credible job. How tasteful some details are will be a matter of opinion, and the coda seems insufficiently informative.

rating from outer space: B+