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+

The Strangeness (“1985”)

directed by david michael hillman
stellarwind

“Strangeness” is deciding to film nearly an entire movie inside an unconvincing “mine.” (Very obviously plaster.) With at least some cast members who never may have acted before, or since. And a creature that is kind of an amalgam of those found in The Deadly Spawn and The Mutations, only less credible. Plus a miraculous exit from deep within the mine that’s completely ludicrous. As to that “strangeness” … they couldn’t come up with a better name for it, you know? And despite the fact that one of the characters is a writer concocting an adventure yarn out of this abandoned gold mine’s backstory, the “strangeness” is never discussed by anyone. As for the other characters … yeah.

why did i watch this movie?

Little-seen pix sometimes end up being called “overlooked gems” or attracting attention for this feature or that one, but … there’s usually a reason nobody’s seen ’em.

should you watch this movie?

That’s really not necessary, unless you want to see an “abandoned mine” that looks even more ersatz than the one in The Boogens. Fun fact: the credits read “Copyright © 1980 By Stellarwind–The Strangeness.” It took FIVE YEARS to find a straight-to-video distributor!

highlight and low point

A final look at the mysterious underground creature, showing it in stop-motion glory devouring what is obviously an action figure purporting to be one of the actors, in a poorly filmed and ineptly edited insert, does not heighten the fear factor and the intimidation level of the monstrous oddity. The stiffly acted characters, most of which are unconvincing or irritating, each bear a significant personal flaw. For a film that largely takes place in dark caverns, it’s usually fairly easy to follow the proceedings – a rarity for such a low-budget undertaking.

rating from outer space: D+

Kolobos (1999)

directed by daniel liatowitsch and david todd ocvirk
armitage pictures

This indie flick started off terribly and I was all set for major disappointment, but it picked up fairly nicely after that – until a certain repetitiveness of a key theme began to wear on me during the middle of the action … and ultimately led into an unfortunate, cut-and-dried resolution. But although that end result felt compromised and was more than a bit of a letdown, getting there turned out to be pretty interesting anyway – despite the fact that not very much about this production could be called “original.” Some strangers agree to live together in a house for some reason or another, carnage ensues, and so forth. There’s a supernatural element, or IS there. Which character(s) can’t be trusted, and why. Did it really happen. You get the idea. At times, however, it’s very nearly professional, and with a little more ingenuity could’ve been pretty special.

why did i watch this movie?

When I was compiling my list of 1990s features, this one stood out because of its unaffiliated nature and a description that made it sound a lot more challenging than it proved to be.

should you watch this movie?

If you enjoy very independent horror pix, sure, why not.

highlight and low point

After the excruciating opening scenes, the writing got a lot better and the characterizations matured. Despite some stock setups – oh, hey, the power went out, imagine that – effective tension was maintained for the majority of the runtime. I enjoyed a bit of a Killbots vibe that unexpectedly surfaced (perhaps probably unintentionally). The overly predictable cop-out ending didn’t help matters much, but the fake horror movie series embedded within the storyline (“The Slaughterhouse Factor”) was a nice touch.

rating from outer space: B−

クロネズミ aka Kuronezumi aka Black Rat (2010)

directed by kenta fukasaku
avex management, inc./deiz

This Japanese production plays like it WANTS you to think it’s merely another anti-bullying flick, but it’s a bit too clever and a little too insidious for that to be the case. It is a revenge picture, which it doesn’t try to hide at all, but the nature of that revenge – and who’s enacting it, and for what reason – is a bit slipperier. Not even pretending to hide its sardonic intent, the film doesn’t overplay its more comic moments and the humor stays mainly black. Layers of pathos also are added as the underlying mystery takes almost the entirety of the film to be revealed. Although a bit brief at 76 minutes or so, and maybe a bit lightweight for focusing on drama amid schoolmates, this is an engaging and enjoyable offering … you know, for a bloody revenge picture full of torments.

why did i watch this movie?

I saw it mentioned … somewhere  … while I was looking for information about … something. Man, I have GOT to start taking notes. It sounded obscure enough, basically.

should you watch this movie?

Though it certainly has elements that detract from its overall effectiveness, it also has enough endearing facets to make a viewing worthwhile. (It’s also not that long, as mentioned above.)

highlight and low point

The cheerful sadism of the Rat is wonderfully juxtaposed with the tremulous responses of her victims, and it was hard not to be amused by the occasional subtitled notation of “Squeak.” More seriously, I thought the picture did a good job depicting what subtleties can create enmity or animosity amongst young adults. Hints of stock scenarios were unwelcome, and a bit of creative liberty may have been taken with the resolution of the affair.

rating from outer space: b

this blog approves of this nod to Ichiro