The Stuff (1985)

written and directed by LARRY COHEN
LARCO PRODUCTIONS

Here – if you don’t know – is your basic Body Snatchers tale about a, um, parasitic dessert. Well, it isn’t really a dessert, but it’s being sold that way at the behest of a secret business cabal whose profit motive compels it to ignore that it turns people into … something or another, somehow. Unless (or until) it kills them. As it proceeds, this flick rather unexpectedly invokes Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, while also managing to be evocative of Stripes, which requires a certain deftness. It’s also got some kinda shadow government thing going on, a rogue former FBI agent whose motivation remained unclear to me, a public relations and/or advertising maven as an uninteresting love interest, often laughable FX, a child actor in a lead role, and a strangely laid-back demeanor on everyone’s behalf, considering that, you know, the existence of the human race is being threatened by deliciousness on behalf of Big Confection.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s a Larry Cohen picture, or hadn’t you noticed?

should you watch this movie?

It’s fun, and not notably demanding.

highlight and low point

Satirical moments abound here, and they’re often pretty sharp, but the detritus of the 1980s cultural milieu contributes plenty of its own zest. At times, scenes seem to have been completed well after being shot, with conspicuous use of green screens, superimposed effects, and the like. (Trying to induce terror via a whipped cream-like substance has its perils.) Occasional FX involving body deterioration is actually pretty effective, though, especially in a questionably timed demise during the film’s climax. Superlative is the scene featuring an exploding The Stuff establishment stationed between what resemble McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken eateries from a model train setup.

rating from outer space: b–

IT Chapter Two (2019)

directed by andy muschietti
new line cinema/vertigo entertainment/katzsmith productions/rideback

You may know that this picture hit theaters right about the time S. King’s latest bestselling novel, The Institute, hit bookstore shelves. I had been unaware of the new book until basically its release day, when I read it immediately. (Naturally.) And despite the fact that it lifts its basic premise almost entirely from season one of Stranger Things (and sure, that premise isn’t dissimilar to the one King presented in Firestarter, but he has been enjoying revisiting old themes of late), it’s a pretty good read. King slacks off a bit in the latter half, where character development gets a much shorter shrift than he ever would’ve cottoned to in his prime, and the ending wraps up a little too neatly, especially for a guy whose tendency to punt the ending is lampooned in the latest movie based on one of his works. (This one, that is.) But it’s better than The Outsider, and it’s better than Sleeping Beauties, and it’s better than the Bill Hodges trilogy, and it’s better than The Revival, and it’s less ridiculous than Dr. Sleep and  … well, it’s not better than Joyland.

As for this flick, it’s nearly three (3!) hours long.

why did i watch this movie?

I’d seen the first installment.

should you watch this movie?

First ask yourself what you stand to gain from that choice. Then do something else instead.

highlight and low point

A partial list of drawbacks hampering this production includes overreliance on lousy CGI, jump scares, and emoting, and the alterations to the source text don’t help anything. The unbearably tedious and hackneyed ending is also tremendously anticlimactic, which is, uh, ironic(?), given the script’s aforementioned allusions to the terrible endings of “Bill’s” movies.

rating from outer space: F

the sign says it all

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”

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

written and directed by christopher landon
blumhouse productions

Okay, so, many/most of the same characters from the initial offering appear in this chapter because it reprises some key events, and increases the ramifications of the whole time warp thing. With a clever twist, of course. But in the tradition of sequels, it’s ramped up to service an unforeseen plot development, this time with dialogue noting storyline similarities to Back To the Future Part II. If that sounds dismal, you may be heartened to learn that it basically works despite those compromising factors, though I’m not sure it qualifies as “horror.” A little uneven, a little convoluted, and possibly a little too long, but the first half or so is good enough to make it worthwhile.

why did i watch this movie?

Its existence bade me rethink skipping the first one.

should you watch this movie?

As mentioned, it’s less frights, more Doc-n-Marty than the original.

highlight and low point

SO, this picture cost around 9 million USD to make, and has grossed at least 64 million USD to date … which considerably dampened studio interest (read: Jason Blum) in producing another. (Think about that the next time you watch some big-budget piece of absolute garbage from Hollywood.) Anyway, the biggest issue this flick has besides general superfluity is that it gives short shrift to what is a fairly important topic, that of the so-called “butterfly effect.” See, it becomes kind of a thorny problem to figure out why only certain details change when Tree is otherwise allegedly reliving the same day over and over again. That concept is introduced and then immediately forgotten for the rest of the film. Personally, I vote for a third part to be made – as a bleak existentialist drama. Take that, profitability.

rating from outer space: b−

Happy Death Day (2017)

directed by christopher landon
blumhouse productions

Yeah, I didn’t go into this flick expecting a lighthearted feel-good romcom, but that’s kinda what’s wrapped up somewhere in its gooey, nougat-filled center … along with a whole lotta other stuff. If that sounds unduly negative, I apologize, but this film really has a little bit of everything in it. And of course it’s self-aware enough to note explicitly that its storyline sounds a whole lot like that of Groundhog Day, saving me the trouble of having to point it out. (Personally, I didn’t make it through the latter picture. Maybe it needed some slasher scenes.) Social conscience, coming-of-age, inclusion, check check check. This is one proudly progressive kill-crazy fright flick, I tells ya. I am extremely discomfited to note that the sequel contains many of the same characters (some of whom should, finally, have been dispatched).

why did i watch this movie?

I had no intention of eyeballing this production until its sequel appeared and I noticed this one had gotten a lot of positive ink.

should you watch this movie?

The whole “Groundhog Day” aspect may nag at you a bit, but as I note, they (eventually) address that. Not your traditional horror, but worth it in my esteemed opinion.

highlight and low point

The humorous touches are well played, and the main character’s wavering demeanor deteriorates nicely as events continue to recur. Of course, I enjoyed greatly that the dorm wall we see most often proudly displays posters from not only They Live but Repo Man (and Back To The Future Part II, but just ignore that for the nonce). The mass-produced-mask-wearing killer isn’t the most original concept, but I’m not altogether sure it’s not intended for meta effect. Attention to detail is laudatory.

rating from outer space: B+

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-

Blood Theatre aka Movie House Massacre (1984)

written, directed, produced by alice raley
movie house productions

Oh, my. Technically speaking, this is a terrible movie … the kind in which the authorial credits intentionally may be misleading. (Purportedly, this is the directorial debut feature for Rick Sloane, and Alice Raley allegedly appears in it, but the title screens propose what’s reported up top, and who knows.) Honestly, it’s hard to say if this picture even aspires to being anything more than “terrible,” though it occasionally seems to think it’s attempting to ape the outrageous style of a John Waters film. (Among other factors, however, it lacks the élan of early Waters, along with the incisive writing.) The “acting” is perhaps middle-school level, the “humor” falls extremely flat, pacing is an afterthought, and even at barely 75 minutes it appears to contain an awful lot of padding. (The FX are intermittently effective, I’ll grant it that.) AND YET. Cliché though it may be, this heap transcends its ill-intentioned conception. If you “like” garbage cinema, that is – the standard disclaimer.

why did i watch this movie?

Its reputation preceded it.

should you watch this movie?

How much weight is borne by one man’s opinion, one man wonders.

highlight and low point

So this is where assessment gets tricky: throughout this tale of a cut-rate, scruple-free theater chain, several fake trailers – with names such as “Clown Whores of Hollywood” and “Nightmare of the Lost Whores” – are shown … and frankly, these may have been better ideas, even if they betray a certain lack of taste or deportment on behalf of their, uh, auteur. Who had previously screened the trailers. At which point we recall that this production is credited to somebody else. This particular faux film doesn’t have any actual ending or resolution; it just stops.

rating from outer space: D