A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

directed by larry cohen
larco Productions/420 demons

As this picture began to unspool, I didn’t know if I’d be able to stand it, because once we reach the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, the production quality (acting, costumes, props, makeup) takes a severe nosedive – and it was iffy from the get-go. I persevered, however, and was amply rewarded by general weirdness. (I also greatly enjoyed the credit “Based on characters created by Stephen King,” as the only way in which that is true is if one considers the town of “Salem’s Lot” itself to be a character.) Okay, look, in terms of actual credibility, this flick is nowheresville; it plays more like a made-for-TV movie than the 1978 Tobe Hooper-directed Salem’s Lot CBS “miniseries” and is chock-full of several stripes of bad acting that run the gamut from half-baked to hammy. Throw in a Nazi hunter to save the day, and you’ve got everything you always wanted in a fear, and less! This is where sequencing can be important: after watching Scarecrows, this flick wound up being highly enjoyable.

why did i watch this movie?

As acknowledged, I am a bit of an S. King obsessive, so I’ve wanted to investigate this one for quite a while, especially after having viewed Cohen’s Special Effects.

should you watch this movie?

It depends on how SERIOUSLY you take “Salem’s Lot” to be a “gripping masterwork of horror,” or whatever people consider King’s (or Hooper’s) Dracula redux to be, because this is a tongue-in-cheek treatment of the (purported) source material.

highlight and low point

The last time I watched a vampire flick I learned how to revive a bloodsucker; this time I found out a mortal can impregnate one and that its ashy remains may spontaneously combust. This is the terrifying leader of the hemovores:

rating from outer space: D

Scarecrows (1988)

directed by william wesley
effigy films

I would be inclined to call this picture “comically inept” except for the fact that nothing about it is funny – especially not the hour and a half or so I wasted watching it. Laborious, idiotic and pointless, this film has three characteristics in preponderance:

  1. voiceovers, to the point that it seems as though large swaths of the flick were shot without any dialogue whatsoever
  2. a repeated closeup* of one of the appellative dummies so prevalent it lends itself to disbelief
  3. blatantly obvious continuity problems for roughly the first third of its running time, which also return at the end

The latter involves an aircraft out of which hijackers are parachuting in pursuit of their heist money, for which they’ve been double-crossed. When the paratroopers land – allegedly this flick is known as “Paratroopers” on the German DVD market – they’re in pitch-dark night, but all shots of the airplane flying are in varying levels of daylight (early twilight at worst). As for the narration, one of the voices illuminates the turncoat’s thoughts, except that when he actually speaks, it’s … in a different, accented voice. As to the “action,” you may reasonably inquire why the scarecrows are killing people. Well might you wonder: no one knows. “I think this place is possessed by demonic demons,” one annoying character says to another. And they can’t be stopped! Except for when they can.

why did i watch this movie?

I have lousy decision-making skills, apparently.

should you watch this movie?

Bake a cake. Ride a bike. “Mail” a “letter.” Take a long walk off a short pier. Write poetry, even!

Highlight and low point

Paced as poorly as the rest of this venture, the credits last more than seven full minutes.

rating from outer space: f

*this one

Dark Souls aka Mørke sjeler aka Zombie Driller Killer aka Drill Murders (2010)

written and directed by césar ducasse and mathieu péteul
addict films

At this late date in the human experiment, it’s downright surprising to come across a picture that presents a fresh take on the undead/zombie genre, but this Norwegian offering does just that. Or DOES it. Deliberately vague, the flick doesn’t really sustain its momentum, but it never ceases to lure one along, either. Along about the climax, I suddenly detected a THX 1138 vibe, and some 28 Months Later – or maybe Shaun of the Dead – parallels occurred to me as well. (One man’s zombie is another man’s walking dead, as the old saying goes.) Largely dialogue-free for its final 20 minutes or so, the disconcerting nature of the proceedings persistently is heightened. You know things aren’t going to end well, but you’re just not sure exactly what that might mean. Not bad, could’ve been better, can’t think of any specific improvements offhand. Well, maybe a little more action wouldn’t have hurt.

why did i watch this movie?

Description: It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out. Haha, no, but the breathless review I saw did say it was depressing, confusing, and worth giving a look-see. Et voilà.


should you watch this movie?

I have made similar observations before, but this film-festival favorite (IMDb lists 36 screenings) will be acceptable to, and more than likely appreciated by, the sorts of viewers who enjoy productions of that ilk and/or on that scale.

highlight and low point

Without giving too much away, the various depictions of the stages of affliction of the most prominent victim are both poignant and blackly humorous to a degree. One serious bit of bad planning, though, involves a rather large discrepancy in the time-release nature of the malady. Also, an amateurish sheen prevails.

rating from outer space: B−

Mandy (2018)

directed by panos cosmatos
piccadilly pictures/spectrevision/umedia/xyz films/legion m/sqn capital/wallimage

Judging by the consensus opinion of this recycled action/revenge picture, people apparently were delighted that someone decided to combine the filmmaking styles of Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino, and to augment that daring celluloid fusion with Nicolas Cage in full-on latter-day Bill Murray mode, mainly staring blankly into the camera and conserving his energy as much as possible. Hmm, that sounds really negative … Sorry, I don’t mean to diminish completely the achievements of this occasionally entertaining waste of your precious dwindling time on this dying planet. It’s just that I didn’t think anything about this flick was especially original, or even terribly interesting. The religious cult cliché is uninspired enough, but once the focus shifts to Cage’s pursuit of his quarry, it literally is nothing you haven’t seen many times before. Overblown, overcooked, overhyped, and underwhelming.

This fabulous line runs later in the credits:

Supported by the Tax Shelter of the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF BELGIUM
and the Tax Shelter investors

why did i watch this movie?

Boy howdy, it sure got some good ink, didn’t it.

should you watch this movie?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯
highlight and low point

It’s fun to look at, I guess, what with the liberal use of p*S*y*C*h*E*d**l*Ι*c visual FX and intervals of animation and hallucinatory FREAKOUTS and so forth. I mean, like, whoo, trippy, man. Oh, and Cage does have one mostly laudable scene. Seriously, though, it’s just too imitative to appreciate and doesn’t have much of a tale to tell. I would’ve thought more people might’ve noticed, but that’s my problem, I suppose.

rating from outer space: D

Don’t Go in the Woods aka Don’t Go in the Woods … Alone! (1981)

directed by james bryan
jbf

This picture is almost breathtakingly incompetent. It features possibly the most ersatz blood I have ever seen, its soundtrack is a wildly inappropriate symphony of treated electronic squawks and bleeps – and it is also a vivid reminder of a time when independent horror features could carve out their own niche at the nation’s “nabes” and drive-ins. As such, despite its excessive documentary-style nature shots, unnecessary scenes, continuity problems, clearly overdubbed dialogue, utterly superfluous moments, endless stream of unidentified cast members, and overly linear “plot,” this flick demands a place at the cult-classic table with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Midnight movie weekends should definitely feature people screaming nonsensical audience-participation crap at this epic.


why did i watch this movie?

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost always up for a film with a title warning “DON’T GO IN” this, “DON’T GO NEAR” that, and so forth.

should you watch this movie?

If you had a venue where you could screen this as part of some event or other, or project it as a sideline feature or during an interlude or something, it would probably go over pretty well. Otherwise?

No.

highlight and low point

The best part of this adventure, hands down, is the incredible scenery of the beautiful location in which they filmed, which may be Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

This isn’t even one of the good shots

Whatever it is, I wanna go there, even if it’s inhabited by a deranged mountain man or any survivors of related massacres. Honestly, though, I also enjoyed the completely unpretentious portrayals of the members of the sheriff’s department. Managing to stand out even in a completely haphazard production, the bewildering parade of random characters is sui generis.

rating from outer space: D+

Nightshift (2018)

written & directed by stephen hall
greenflash pictures/blue shadows films/grump films

Maybe a little over halfway through the 75 or so minutes of this production, it veers into a psychologically tormenting sequence that elevates what already had been an interesting picture into a compelling one. The effect isn’t really sustained, but nonetheless this is one film that understands the dynamics of parceling out its particulars. Often, the moments in between events carry the most weight in this tale of weird happenings in an Irish hotel. At times more than a little reminiscent of 1408, for at least one example, what works best here is that nothing ever seems too surreal to accept. Not exactly unpredictable, this presentation of a truly terrible first shift at a new job still manages to defy the norm to some degree, although that mostly may be a matter of style rather than substance. Whatever the case, the end result is another effective exhibition from Ireland.

why did i watch this movie?

The description didn’t exactly dazzle me, but something about it made the flick seem worth a look. Maybe it was the Irish thing; as noted, I generally seem to enjoy output from those shores.

should you watch this movie?

While acknowledging there’s only so much one can do with the whole place-where-something-terrible-happened angle, this one at least tweaks it a bit.

highlight and low point

I cannot stress enough that I was greatly impressed by how much this flick does with its scenes where nothing actually winds up happening. The aura and suspense generated in those scenes is masterful. Also, during the mind- and time-bending sequence, a few instances work wonders for the picture’s chill factor. As for the downside, surprise isn’t notably in abundance here, despite the fact that it avoids becoming overly formulaic.

rating from outer space: B

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