M.D.C – Maschera di cera aka La Máscara de Cera aka The Wax Mask (1997)

directed by sergio stivaletti
Cine 2000/mediaset/france film international

Dedicated to Lucio Fulci by its production team, due to some convoluted backstory (“Dario Argento Presenta”), this very mannered extravaganza boasts a visual sheen not quite in keeping with its turn-of-the-20th-century period setting, and spins a tale that, while engaging enough as it unspools, is somewhat undermined by a gaggle of absurdities at its center. The enigma that compels it doesn’t stay very mysterious for very long, despite the labored attempts by virtually everyone in the cast to vamp it up as much as possible, and the sumptuous costuming is somewhat hilariously at odds with what one must term the futurism at its core. (Were one inclined to be unkind, it could be called anachronistic, but as it’s a horror fable, what would even be the point.) At heart, it’s just kind of silly, another victim of the genre’s inability to stop rewriting stories that weren’t that interesting the first time around. See, it takes place in a WAX MUSEUM, would you believe. And what’s more!

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I’d have to guess at this point, but it’s most likely the release date, and maybe the intrigue underlying its production. (Argento wanted to help Fulci make a film, but Fulci died before filming began.)


Should You Watch This Movie?

It’s nearly interesting at times.


Highlight and Low Point

Despite its efforts, this production doesn’t do a very effective job of making it appear to be 1900 – it is too obvious that you are looking at sets and costumes. (The steampunk Re-Animator setup doesn’t much help in that regard, either.) The gore and pseudogore FX are pretty good, befitting the nominal director’s usual professional pursuits. The absurdly blatant ripoff of The Terminator, on the other hand …

Rating From Outer Space: C−

I Blame Society (2020)

Directed by Gillian Wallace Horvat
Nowhere

While I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess there may be a lot of people who wouldn’t find this picture very funny. Maybe those folks would misconstrue the satirical nature of the meta commentary, remarked upon with such satisfaction by those living and working within its filmmaking milieu. It’s also probable that some people just don’t find murder to have much comedic value. If your taste runs toward extremely dark humor, however, and you’ve ever spent any time dallying with the art world, this should strike the correct nerve. A mockumentary of sorts that translates its anger into absurdities, the narrative follows Horvat as she embarks on a very special personal project. At first, her tentativeness and some awkward situations she establishes may evoke thoughts of Creep, but eventually this production abandons what little restraint it has demonstrated, perhaps to emphasize the lunacy lurking in its heart. Does it lose a bit of verisimilitude with this shift? Possibly, but there’s too much fun to be had for that to matter much.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I’ve used this exact phrase for years in attempts at arch commentary.


Should You Watch This Movie?

It’s one of the most enjoyable pictures I’ve seen since I started this blög, which as of this post has 335 reviews. (There are an additional 117 or so horror flix that have yet to be honored here, too.)

Highlight and Low Point

The filmmaker meets with some production bros twice along the way, and for anyone oblivious to her thesis, these scenes hammer it home. (The second session includes an aptly revealing indictment.) The various references to her
omnipresent cameras are also amply rewarding.

Rating From Outer Space: A

The Nesting aka Massacre Mansion (1981)

Produced and Directed by Armand Weston

For the most part, this is a straightforward old-haunted-house yarn, but it has a couple peculiarities that are gonna leave you wondering. The basic story is, well, basic: successful novelist rents a country home for rest, relaxation and writing, but wouldn’t ya know, something’s amiss. For one thing, she keeps having these weird dreams. For another, she’s agoraphobic, which isn’t the best trait when your residence starts frightening you. Then there’s the small matter that the house itself was depicted on the cover of one of her previous novels. Throw in a threatening drunken handyman, various oddball locals, and intrusive hallucinations, and you’ve got your hands full. Pretty good overall, but oh, those few production quirks …

why did i watch this movie?

To reiterate: I selected some of these titles quite a while ago, and haven’t the foggiest notion about many. I don’t even know where I came across this one, it turns out.

should you watch this movie?

Though it wears out its welcome here and there – the visions get a bit repetitive, and Robin Groves gets a little too hysterical a little too often – it’s a bit better than you might expect.

highlight and low point

Not only are there a few moments of supernatural activity that more or less just produce giggles – they seem superfluous and silly, even in what is essentially a ghost story – but there’s a car chase featuring fake car-chase sounds! And other ersatz automotive audio effects! I honestly cannot recall ever experiencing such a thing before; it’s extremely obvious, and it’s hilarious. Aside from this mainstream foray, producer/director/co-writer Weston worked almost exclusively in the adult-film world. Despite that, this venture is not particularly sleazy, even with a “house of ill repute” subplot.

Rating From Outer Space: B−

 

Freaky (2020)

directed by CHRISTOPHER LANDON
Blumhouse Productions/Divide/conquer

I will freely admit – I have to – that I’m a sucker for this exact sort of flick, to the extent that I knew I was going to like it as soon as I read a review of it. And I put off watching it for some reason anyway. So, yeah, here’s another Blumhouse comedic horror romp, and boy is it ever of the moment. A body-switching gender-defying mockup slasher spoof of “Freaky Friday” and its ilk, it even manages to worm a little bit more tension out of some of the hoariest of the genre’s tropes. Men’s rights advocates probably won’t like it much, and who the hell knows whether the newly minted Science-trusters will denounce it while busily insisting they’re defending the natural rights of biological women. Why, there could be ammo for the cancel-culture-cancellers, too! Now THAT’s inclusive!

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Man, I already done TOLD ya! I’m like a moth around a light bulb for this kinda thing.

Should You Watch This Movie?

I will go ahead and presume it will not suit everybody’s taste. Hell, it could even seem like outright trolling in some regards, I suppose. But here’s the thing: Times change. Seasons change. But this movie is bloody entertaining. (Literally, of course.)

Highlight and Low Point

Vince Vaughn is tremendous in this picture. Which may be surprising to you, should you not be aware that Vince Vaughn is still a guy who acts ‘n’ such. Hey, it caught me a little bit unawares. And see above comments about aggressive agenda-pushing. I mean, look, that’s a big part of what’s behind the whole premise here, but … certain people take their cues from certain people they know, if you catch my drift.

Rating From Outer Space: A−

Ghostbusters aka Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

Directed by Paul Feig
Village Roadshow Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Ghost corps*

*”A Columbia Pictures Company”

Check, this isn’t really a horror flick – but it isn’t really not at the very least a horror-comedy, either. You got your scary ghosts terrorizing the populace, undead, a demon-haunted world, the modern version of New York City … it qualifies. Like many a knee-jerk type, I figured this flick couldn’t be anything but terrible, but especially by “reboot” standards, I didn’t think it was all that bad. In fact, I’ll admit, it showed admirable restraint in a lot of areas – especially given the “standard” established by, say, Ghostbusters II. And I’ll allow, in fact, that it kinda acts as a mashup and reboot simultaneously, as elements of “II” intermingle herein with those of the original. I may still be unsure why exactly this was necessary, but it has to have been better than another go-round with the old folks would’ve been. But back to the well we go with the next installment. (Likely still with the same musical theme, too.)

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I wanted to see what Kate McKinnon would do with a feature role, and I was desperately avoiding schoolwork.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Well … nobody else did, hahaha. Not exactly gung-ho for the experience myself, I seriously doubt I could sit through it again. (It’s over two hours long, for one thing.)

Highlight and Low Point

Chris Hemsworth’s himbo secretary offers drollery, and Kristen Wiig is convincing enough as the … I want to say “straight man,” but that seems like a loaded term in the context of a female recasting, and “straight person” and “straight woman” seem to imply something else entirely. Anyway, Melissa McCarthy didn’t annoy the hell out of me, does that count?

Rating From Outer Space: C+

The Clown at Midnight (1998)

directed by Jean Pellerin
GFT/Paquin Entertainment

Purely by chance, this Canadian flick has Christopher Plummer in it (“and Christopher Plummer as Caruthers,” as his special mention warrants); I watched it shortly before he died, but I’ve been more than a little remiss posting anything lately (as you may have noticed), so I’m just trying to play ketchup here. So … there’s a collegiate acting troupe that inherits/inhabits an old theater, which just happened to be the site of an unsolved mystery involving its star opera performer … who, coincidentally enough, turns out to have been the mother of one of the students involved. (Imagine!) The death occurred following the final performance of Pagliacci, and, you know, the lore, and the urban legend, and the haunted performance space, and the deaths. You’ll probably be able to suss out most of the story before it ends, and as usual, it will help not to dwell too much upon it afterward.

why did i watch this movie?

Seriously, the title caught my eye, because it sounded odd. (“Clown at Midnight?” I wondered.) Then I saw it was Canadian, and I’m always for some reason interested in films of such origin. I suppose the credit “and Margot Kidder as Ellen Gibby” may also shed some light.

should you watch this movie?

It is really, really, really intent on breaking no new ground.

highlight and low point

A character or two has an almost-interesting quirk or two, and a not-insignificant portion of the underlying story might nag at you due to its inadmissibility. Or at least, it should, because … sheesh. I don’t wish to give away too much of the “plot,” but you will seriously begin questioning how the production team had the gall to stick with its story, so to speak.

Rating From Outer Space: C+

Mute Witness (1995)

written and directed by anthony waller
a buchman/claus/soentgen/waller production

A suspense-driven exercise in communication problems, this picture is in Russian and English, and its title character spends a lot of its duration desperately trying to stay a step or two ahead of what appear to be some murderous thugs and maybe a criminal conspiracy. Ah, but see, the main players here are all working on a film set, and can you really trust what you’re seeing? Or whether people really are who they say they are? Et cetera. Mordantly funny at times, and a little better than it deserved to be. Maybe the language barrier(s) helped?

why did i watch this movie?

The time-honored setup of the observer of a crime who cannot for one reason or another convince anyone what she’s seen, along with a recurring trend often encountered here of late, ye olde picture-within-a-picture gimmick, I suppose.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a bit of an oddball take, really, but the blurbs aren’t lying – there are extended moments of high suspense throughout. Past a certain point, exactly what the bad guys are up to gets a little unnecessarily complicated, but that’s hardly the focus anyway.

highlight and low point

I’ll tell ya what’s NOT a highlight, trying to determine who’s responsible for these multi-studio, triple-nation co-productions. The differing methods of connection used within, however, are kinda fascinating. Marina Zudina’s portrayal of a deaf-mute  is pretty convincing, at least as far as I could tell. (I was not actually comparing it with the deaf actors in either Soul to Keep or A Quiet Place, or even those playing deaf-mutes in the dialogue-free Mercury, but was instead weighing it against Jennifer Jason Leigh’s blind character in Eyes of a Stranger. Don’t ask me why.)

rating from outer space: B+

Frankenhooker (1990)

directed by frank henenlotter
ievins/henenlotter

Sometime in the ’80s, someone had the following idea for a movie: “So this guy, he’s, like, a science nerd, and his girlfriend gets chopped up by this souped-up remote-control lawnmower he rigs up for her dad, see, and then he invents supercrack and explodes a bunch of prostitutes and uses their body parts to, uh, make a new body for his dead girlfriend’s head, which he’s kept in this … estrogen-rich fluid.” When people lament the elements of life that “cancel culture” and its devotees are out to deny us, they’re forgetting that creations on the order of this one would be among those deprivations. And while we’d inarguably be poorer for lack of hybrids of films like Re-Animator and those released by Troma, the most commendable feature here is that it’s played more or less straight-faced, with a matter-of-fact tone, despite the increasingly ludicrous scriptwriting. (“There wasn’t enough left of you to fry an egg with” was a particular favorite line.) I dunno if exploitative sleaze is really that crucial a societal component.

why did i watch this movie?

It occurred to me that I’d somehow skipped this essential cinematic experience. I think I used to confuse it with other flicks, none of which seemed all that compelling.

should you watch this movie?

It’s fairly diverting, though it does seem pretty dated. Then again, it was proffered under the Shapiro Glickenhaus entertainment banner.

highlight and low point

If the pimp, “Zorro,” isn’t where the creators of Aqua Teen Hunger Force got the inspiration for “Carl,” well … that’s some sorta implication of a terrifying convergence. Main character Jeffrey’s plainspoken yet unhinged manner is oddly endearing, though you may have questions about his self-trepanation. Body horror – and perhaps gynophobia – ultimately reigns.

rating from outer space: B

The Banana Splits Movie (2019)

directed by danishka esterhazy
blue ribbon content/blue ice pictures

You know, I gave up drugs about nine years ago, and watching this insane production, I realize I either never needed them or they caused permanent brain damage. Holy cats. Based in some sort of madcap reality where The Banana Splits are still a popular and ongoing concern, this flick – which was for some reason filmed entirely in South Africa, even though the cast and crew are dominated by Canadians, and “Blue Ribbon Content” is a TV production subsidiary of Warner Bros. – conjures a pernicious mashup of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Meet the Feebles. Obviously, with that setup, this is ostensibly a horror comedy, but I am not even kidding you, it’s a whole lot creepier than you’d think. Part of that is due to the cinéma vérité effect provided by the production values, but its humor is all pretty black, if not bleak, anyway. Tremendous. Stupendous! A mess of fun, indeed.

why did i watch this movie?

Periodically, I contemplate acquiring the music from the original television series (you’ll recall I mentioned brain damage), and the most recent time, the welter of information accompanying my “research” mentioned the existence of this film. Fait accompli.


should you watch this movie?

I’m trying to determine this picture’s probable impact on those with no personal relationship with/foreknowledge of the nostalgia-tinged frippery upon which it is based, but ultimately I don’t think lacking the background should matter that much.


highlight and low point

The fact that almost none of the characters involved actually like The Banana Splits is both jocose and, in my opinion, keenly observant. After hinting that the action might stay somewhat tame, it proceeds to tear limb from limb – literally, in some cases.

rating from outer space: A−

Cut (2000)

directed by kimble rendall
beyond films/mushroom pictures/mbp/south australian film corporation

Another Australian horror comedy? Okay, sure, why not. Dispensing with overt laffs in favor of a general mood that isn’t all too serious, this filming-of-a-film-within-a-film is about the attempt to finish, uh, filming a film. Which was never finished. Said celluloid seems to be cursed, you see, as mayhem and terror ensues whenever anyone even tries screening the reels that remain of the initial endeavor. Despite that, some plucky young film students are determined to make a go of it, their professor’s objections notwithstanding. For a largely unheralded picture languishing in smaller-foreign-film obscurity, this flick is a pretty good time, even if saddled with a pretty ridiculous underlying concept. (To be fair, it’s generally internally consistent, which is always a plus in my book.) Molly Ringwald has a meta role as a onetime name actress who agrees to take a scream-queen part in a DIY indie production.

why did i watch this movie?

Probably because it’s Australian, a condition I usually find signifies a certain reliability. After making the selection, however, I held off for a while because the whole “horror film shoot or equivalent plagued by slasher or equivalent” isn’t the                                                                             most innovative idea.

should you watch this movie?

Ultimately, it doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. If you’re looking for cinematic entertainment you don’t have to get too involved with, though, this’ll do.

highlight and low point

Really, the fact that the director was a founding member of the quirky rave-up combo (Le) Hoodoo Gurus leads this category. How random is that? The script could’ve worked harder to create misdirection about the killer’s identity, and it feels as though some opportunities were missed in observing the lineage of the fateful film.

rating from outer space: C+