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−

3 From Hell (2019)

written and directed by rob zombie
spookshow international/capital arts entertainment

In the rock ‘n’ roll world, bands sometimes hit a home run with their first release because it’s the culmination of everything they’ve spent their lives working toward, all their passion and labor and inspiration and insanity and their most finely honed materal in one definitive document. Then they’ve got, like, eight months to follow it up, and that’s where the magic often ends. That didn’t happen with Rob Zombie’s music career; it took White Zombie years to claw their way out of the NYC underground and hit it big in the early ’90s with La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, and he still enjoys a musical following. The template does describe his directorial career, however. House of 1000 Corpses, if not exactly original, seemed to presage the existence of a new horror auteur … but the bloom has faded from that rose. This sequel to the underwhelming Corpses sequel The Devil’s Rejects is a Tarantino-lite quasi-comedic misstep that more than ever showcases little save its writer’s underdeveloped vocabulary and lack of interesting ideas.

why did i watch this movie?

I greatly enjoyed Corpses, and liked Rejects the first time.

should you watch this movie?

It’s rather insipid.

highlight and low point

A moment or two in this picture works all right, but that’s about it. The setup is pretty dumb, the dialogue is godawful, it’s imitative, and it tiredly rehashes some stylistic elements from the last film, only stretched beyond parodic. Oh, and adds a new family member to provide the crucial deliverance. This chapter should’ve followed Tiny, last seen shortly before the ending of Rejects, and Dr. Satan, who’s still presumably out there somewhere, too.

rating from outer space: D−

These clowns liked it, apparently.
Photo from imdb (Tasia Wells)

Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

directed by ray cameron
wildwood productions

This intermittently amusing English spoof may well have struck me funnier were I British, or approximately 10 years old. (I believe you call an affair such as this one a “broad farce.”) The production is rife with personalities and/or characters that did not resonate with me, and the less said about much of its sense of humour, the better. That being said, it had its good points, with Vincent Price’s absurdly campy centuries-old malevolent priest being a particular highlight. Although a few gags are repeated until maddening, and the overall story – once it eventually (almost) coheres – appears to belie its original aim, this film might hold dimwitted appeal to fans of … lowbrow British television. Not really my spot of tea.

why did i watch this movie?

By now you know I will watch anything with a title such as this.

should you watch this movie?

Anglophiles might enjoy placing the various performers in context of their larger careers, I guess.

highlight and low point

Vincent Price’s initial monologue is so delightfully overwrought it surpasses parody and becomes a true work of comic art; indeed, it is hilarious enough a moment that it sustained me throughout the rest of the film, which is largely lazy and witless. A few other vignettes – an S&M-tinged religious flashback and a scene involving phantom sex among them – are curious enough to add further impetus to the viewing urge, but even the more successful tropes feel halfhearted at times, and a handful of random contemporary allusions (among them Star Wars and E.T. ) either feel misguided, serve little purpose, or frankly are just kind of baffling. Oh, and the ending curries (sorry) more than a bit of a Rocky Horror vibe as well.

Rating from outer space: D+

“ha, ha, very droll”

The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

written and directed by jim jarmusch
animal kingdom/film i väst

When I heard about this one, my initial reaction was, “Why’s Jarmusch doing a zombie picture?” Then I remembered that prior to Paterson, his most recent non-documentary project (which reminds me, I wanted to see that), he made a vampire film. (“Only Lovers Left Alive.”) So maybe he’s on some sorta retro monster kick, or maybe he’s Tarantinoing his way through vanity projects. Whatever (maaaan) the case, this likable but lightweight romp appears to be a Statement film, and it becomes a bit explicit toward that end as it approaches its finale, largely thanks to Tom Waits’s expository. It also refers to the existence of its own script (or lack therof), flogs Sturgill Simpson’s title track, links Adam Driver’s character to Star Wars, and of course mentions Cleveland. Bill Murray is better in this than he was in Dead Flowers, as if that means anything.

why did i watch this movie?

Jim Jarmusch has made some damn good movies. I’m partial to Down By Law and Dead Man myself.

should you watch this movie?

It’s quite amusing throughout, but it’s kind of a trifle, to be forthright.

highlight and low point

Well, Larry Fessenden‘s in it, and I got a kick out of that, and RZA’s entrance is priceless. Honestly, though, a lot of this feature feels pretty lazy, and few of the characters are given much of any chance to establish themselves. The basic premise is a good one for anyone who believes in Science, but the analysis of the zombies’ behavior becomes a little too obvious. The dialogue writing is mostly sharp, though, and the cops play their parts with aplomb. A deus ex machina, meanwhile, is out of this world.

rating from outer space: B-

All Cheerleaders Die (2001)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
mckee, sivertson, shelli merrill, jeff rimmer, kevin sparks et al.

So, this is essentially a home movie, you know, shot on video during daylight hours, with a game but novice cast, beginner FX, and an interesting storyline that devolves into standard zombie fare. It’s also wildly ambitious and somewhat unconventional in structure, particularly for the type of amateur production it is, and for what it’s worth also flaunts an independent and presumably localized soundtrack. If I said I could tell from this beginning where co-director McKee’s career would head – or for that matter, that of his co-director – I’d be blatantly lying to you, because it only occasionally evinces any hint that its makers even had such a goal in mind, much less the abilities to achieve it. They must at least have had motivation and perseverance, though.

why did i watch this movie?

I have admired some of McKee’s other work, and as I pondered seeing the 2013 version of this film, discovered that it was possible to track down this artifact.

should you watch this movie?

It’s kinda interesting as a historical artifact, but that status doesn’t make the sophomoric moments any more palatable – nor the lack of production values.

highlight and low point

As hinted above, the setup is pretty interesting, especially as it takes time to take effect – a significant delay is involved, giving the filmmakers more time for character and story development. The scene that eventually triggers the mayhem is also quite unexpected, and amongst less successful thespians, Shelli Merrill stands out for her concerted efforts. The cheerleading, however, is atrocious and unconvincing. Other drawbacks have been covered, and although the “bloodthirsty undead” angle is pretty tired, I won’t fault that here.

rating from outer space: C−

Prom Night (1980)

directed by paul lynch
simcom/guardian trust company

This is kind of an old-fashioned picture, in my opinion, and why shouldn’t it be, you think, it’s almost 40 years old. What I mean, though, is that it seems kind of old-fashioned for 1980. With an almost quaint sense of pacing and development, along with some hilariously questionable plot turns or stratagems, even the brief nudity seems perfunctory. With a quasi-sociological examination of “high school” students, the character development really seemed lacking to me, given that at least one motive’s established for what appear to be revenge killings, yet the culpable characters eventually become somewhat sympathetic. (I briefly debated if this was instead a brilliant gambit before I regained my equilibrium.) Not a whole lot of fun, really, aside from the amusement of the paltry turnout for the “Disco Madness” prom scenes.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s kind of the archetypal ’80s slasher, another Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle, and I’d never seen it.

should you watch this movie?

hey, look, it’s a Plymouth Fury

It really only holds up as an opportunity to enjoy certain horror movie tropes, even if it does try to create a more interesting story, to variable effect.

highlight and low point

Admittedly, there’s a lot to appreciate here, from the KISS poster in the school cafeteria and attendant photos in one girl’s locker (for the sake of argument, this is what KISS was up to at the time), to the aforementioned disco theme, to the inexplicably exploding van, to the half-assed attempt at establishing red herrings, to the ineffectual police procedures, and on and on. Unfortunately, it never gets too interesting and we don’t care much about any of the characters. The first murder scene is unexpectedly horrific.

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: C−

La Terrificante Notte Del Demonio aka La Plus Longue Nuit du Diable aka The Devil’s Nightmare aka Au Service du Diable aka The Devil Walks at Midnight (1971)

directed by jean brisme’e (sic)
delfino film/cetelci s.a.

Literally titled “The Terrifying Night of the Devil” in its native Italian and “The Longest Night of the Devil” in French (it was an Italian and Belgian co-production), one might immediately suspect that in “The Devil’s Nightmare” they’d find a mishandled feature in which nobody was too invested, but this classic European sleaze actually impressed me no end. Well, at least the middle portion did, as for a while this tale of seven travelers unwillingly spending a fateful night in an eerie castle became intriguing and stylish. The latter third is less trashy than the first third and more pedestrian than that which precedes it, though it does at least introduce some priceless camp elements. On the whole, the picture surpasses reasonable expectations. Oh, and it disproves the widely held notion that castles don’t have phones, for those keeping score at home.

why did i watch this movie?

Whilst I was scouring sources for stuff to screen, I saw the English sobriquet for this picture and was immediately agog. “The devil’s nightmare?” I wondered, suspecting linguistic malfeasance. Ergo …

should you watch this movie?

A good time would be had by all, assuredly.

highlight and low point

Somewhat surprisingly, given the overall mood and orientation of this affair, it boasts the least passionate “lesbian” scene one may ever witness. (To call it “tepid” would be a wild exaggeration.) It counterbalances this shortcoming, however, with the most floridly literal depiction possible of signing a contract with the devil. Somewhere in between these extremes, it presents a panoply of themes and settings familiar from such fare as House on Haunted Hill, Clue and Se7en, to name just the most obvious. Erika Blanc’s succubine Lisa Müller is a particular treat throughout.

rating from outer space: B+