Baba Yaga aka Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch aka The Devil Witch aka Kiss Me, Kill Me aka Black Magic (1973)

directed by corrado farina
14 luglio cinematografica s.r.l./simone allouche productions

Definitely the first film I’ve seen based on the erotically charged comics of Guido Crepax, this Italian tale of intrigue – and, you know, deadly puppets dressed in S&M gear that can manifest in fleshly human form – is, first and foremost, an examination of artful-nude studio photography vis-à-vis commercial filmmaking. And an attempted meditation on taste and the merits of artistic forms. Plus, of course, chic fashion, lots of chic fashion. Events never get very frightening, although the ending scenes contain some interesting and eerie moments, and the big reveal that sets them up isn’t without impact. The way things wrap up renders much of the story really kind of pointless, though because of the multiple erotic death dream sequences, at least you could toss “questions of conscience” into the list up above. Don’t know what to make of the Nazis or the other military imagery.

why did i watch this movie?

I mean, I saw the title “Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch.” I didn’t even know about the Crepax connection until the title cards showed.

should you watch this movie?

It’s amusing in a kitschy way, but apparently impossible to see in its intended form. (Footage that may or may not contribute to the film’s cohesion was excised without the director’s consent.) The version I watched contained some scenes inserted from work prints.

highlight and low point

There are dandy pseudophilosophical musings such as “If you don’t use the means that the system provides, what other possibilities have you got?” Mind you, the characters sharing this exchange are pretty far from revolutionary types. It’s also pretty moving when the pseudo heroine, Valentina, icily exclaims, “I couldn’t care less about … power and riches and your cosmic secrets!”

rating from outer space: C−

Mercy Black (2019)

written and directed by owen egerton

Oh, for crying out loud … here we go again with this bushwah. I try really hard not to sound like a broken record in these pages, which is sometimes a chore, but I may have no choice this time. What we have here is a spook film with a checklist, making sure it gives audiences exactly what they’ve already gotten so many times before – albeit one that for a brief, barely glimpsed moment has a fleeting chance to offer something different, to head somewhere that might be more than routine. But it doesn’t do that; at right about that same moment, it dives into the usual trough. Then it throws the ol’ SHOCKING reveal at you before copping out completely. Refusing to commit to any of its conceits, this Netflix offering exemplifies the perhaps apocryphal adage “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Dissatisfying at best.

why did i watch this movie?

Uh, yeah … I must have been asleep at the switch, because the description that accompanies this flick really doesn’t sound all that stimulating.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a blatant recasting of the 2014 “Slender Man” stabbing from Wisconsin, and it really isn’t worth your time.

highlight and low point

Maybe the most polite way I could put it is to posit that at no point in this parade of platitudinous pusillanimity do events rise above or plummet beneath a plateau. (That is, it may be tired and unimaginative throughout, but hey, at least it’s consistent.) Everything that could be worthwhile about this experience lies solely within your ability to imagine it, which, mirabile dictu, happens to align with one of this picture’s insufficiently addressed themes. It is also directed clumsily.

rating from outer space: D

Baby Blood aka The Evil Within (1990)

directed by alain robak
partner’s productions/exo 7 productions

Not many of these movies tend to wow me, because let’s be honest, not a whole lot of them bring much of anything particularly new to the table, but you can go right ahead and put this deranged romp into its own category entirely. Simultaneously dismal, brutal, grotesque, and somehow funny as hell, this French meditation on the pains and perils of impending motherhood is a delightfully distasteful monster movie of sorts, although nearly every moment in the picture belongs almost solely to Bianca (or “Yanka,” according to the credits), played with élan (et plus que un peu je ne sais quoi) by Emmanuelle Escourrou. Farcical at times, and on an occasion or two somewhat predictable, la ciné nevertheless is never overtaken by what nearly becomes complete overkill. Est-ce formidable? Absolument.

why did i watch this movie?

The title called to me as I once again sought for ’90s material. I made sure not to spoil the plot by reading any synopses, though I figured I was in for some sort of tale of demonic possession or devil worship or witchcraft or what-have-you.

should you watch this movie?

It does not concern demonic possession or devil worship, etc., etc., should that be what your little heart desires. It is, however, a bloodbath.

hlight and low point

You know me, the delirious passion imbued in some (okay, most) of the kill scenes had me at the very precipice of giddiness, but there’s plenty for everyone to appreciate here. Our protagonist’s mostly unobserved ability to jump from situation to situation is quite entertaining, especially as she begins to thrive in any variety of circumstances, and the ongoing, uh, internal dialogue is blackly enjoyable. A sequel is reputedly less ingenious.

rating from outer space: a

The Mangler (1995)

directed by tobe hooper
distant horizon/filmex (pty) ltd/allied film productions

You’d THINK that a story about a bloodthirsty industrial laundry machine – Box Office Mojo: “A laundry-folding machine has been possessed by a demon, causing it to develop homicidal tendencies” – would be a premise stupid enough to satisfy most people, but Tobe Hooper apparently wasn’t most people, as it seems it wasn’t stupid enough for him. No, he must have decided – having cowritten the damn thing – that the presentation would have to be dumbed down in order to make an inexcusably brain-dead travesty of a feature. It’s a chore merely to make it past the first couple minutes, which I attest having had to try more than once. Everything looks abysmally fake, most of the acting is atrocious, the embellishments to the plotline of S. King’s originating short story are idiotic, and holy contrivance, Robert Englund’s character. He – it – they … stammering, reduced to, me. Bleah.

why did i watch this movie?

Besides my S. King obsessiveness, I had just finished Hooper’s Funhouse and fumbled my way into the realization that he directed (and cowrote) this crap.

should you watch this movie?

Plenty of terrible adaptations of S. King material are out there, just waiting for you. (Thinner, for example – I couldn’t make it through that one the first time I tried, either.)

highlight and low point

Look, the story itself (which you can read in the Night Shift collection) ends with the industrial speed-ironer wrenching itself from its moorings and stalking humanity, and I’ll grant that would be a difficult occurrence to film. That being said, the animated Mangler at this picture’s apogee is deliriously spurious. The filmic resemblance to portions of Graveyard Shift (story also from aforementioned source) do not lend this production any additional credibility.

rating from outer space: 0

The Funhouse (1981)

directed by tobe hooper
a mace neufeld production
in association with derek power

Opening with a predictable Psycho pastiche isn’t the most promising gambit, but Hooper’s fourth horror picture overcomes its penchant for paying homage to the classic monster films of yore. Set almost entirely within the grounds of a traveling carnival, at times nodding its head distinctly in the direction of Freaks, the film slowly builds suspense while tossing out the odd and unexplained hint of premonition here and there. Withholding most of the film’s real frights until after a surprising secret look behind the scenes pays off. Film buffs can probably play count the references here, but c’mon, there’s a carny with a Frankenstein getup working the nominal attraction. Overall, a polished, professional production.

why did i watch this movie?

Having just taken yet another trip to the TCM well, I thought I should check this one out, to see if it deserved its good reputation.

should you watch this movie?

It is very good at being what it intends to be. That’s not a knock; at a certain point, it really takes on a classic feel. (Kevin Conway is a big part of that.)

highlight and low point

I was actually hoping that the Frankenstein character either would stay in costume or actually look like that, because that woulda been quite the surreal monkey wrench, but alas. Rick Baker’s makeup FX, which seem silly at first … well, they still seem silly later, but remain effective enough. I don’t think I’d call this a brilliant piece of work by any means – nor would I suppose that was its aim – but it’s a clever and finely attuned work of evocation. The carnival grounds, provided by a real-life purveyor of such attractions, feel quite authentic.

rating from outer space: a−

Texas Chainsaw 3D aka Texas Chainsaw (2013)

directed by john luessenhop
millennium films/main line pictures

I’ll say this much: before you figure out where this picture is heading – which is about when you might want to stop watching – it’s a fairly worthy successor to the debut, even if its opening completely rips off that of The Devil’s Rejects. Not unlike every other film bearing any relationship to the title “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – checkered as that past is – it also leaves way too many questions unanswered, questions which needn’t ever have been raised in the first place. Oh! And as it lurches through its climax, it also borrows an extended scene (and attendant manner of grisly demise) from Slaughterhouse. For all that – and I’m including the ludicrous backstory and character development of the newest family member – it’s a gripping watch … at least until our poor heroine gets “helped out” by the police, anyway. After that, it’s just more of the same hot garbage churned out in the name of the TCM franchise by those who won’t leave bad enough alone.

why did i watch this movie?

A clip from it posted somewhere led me to the trailer, which twisted my arm.

should you watch this movie?

Hooper and Henkel’s 1974 success was a serendipitous feat, and nobody seems willing or able to countenance that fact – including them. (They’re two of approximately 137 “executive producers” here.) It’s less perfunctory than the 2003
reboot, for whatever that’s worth.

highlight and low point

This film does not skimp on sickening gore, presented for the most part with exquisite care, so if that happens to be your bag, one indelible scene in particular is calling your name. The resolution of the storyline is a mess, the loopholes and oversights mount alarmingly, and the scattered signifiers of the original seem desperate.

rating from outer space: c−

Fantasy Island (2020)

directed by jeff wadlow
columbia pictures/BLUMHOUSE productions

So I was doing my usual browsing for tripe when I came across this title, and thought to myself, “Well, that can’t possibly be – “

But it was, oh yes. An indefensible, uh, reimagining of the absurd escapist television drama of the late ’70s/early ’80s, which was right up there with its programming partner “The Love Boat” in terms of challenging intellectual fare. Of course, this rendition bears the Blumhouse stamp, as does the recent “Invisible Man,” which might provide a clue to the underpinnings of Jason Blum’s money-printing machine … he ain’t paying for new stories, that’s for sure. Especially here, a dumb idea that unfolds into a mishmash of stale, borrowed scenes – and let’s face it,  there couldn’t have been much hope for anything better given the source material.

Did I mention it’s a “prequel”? (!)

why did i watch this movie?

I had to make sure it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, ironically enough.

should you watch this movie?

You know, The Hunt is yet another Blumhouse-spawned rewrite that had its debut this year. I expected a little more from a varsity letterman.

highlight and low point

I suppose the acme of this production must be how shameless it is, or perhaps the fact that the cast largely seem to be taking their jobs seriously. (The working vacation in Fiji presumably helped.) As this waste of time finally staggered to a close – it for some reason is 109 minutes long – my real-time observation was, “This is insanely idiotic.” Then, having untangled the ins and outs of just who was responsible for the whole stupid mess, the heartwarming tearjerker ending revealed the origin story of “Tattoo.”

If you don’t know what that could possibly mean, thank ye gods.

rating from outer space: F