Schizoid (1980)

written and directed by david paulsen
golan-globus productions/the cannon group, inc.

Another epitomic Cannon film, this “thriller” meanders its way through a murky cityscape in pursuit of its victims, who – oh, wait, that’s what the villain or whatever does, in between the viewer’s visitations to group therapy sessions and glimpses into the fractured home life of Klaus Kinski’s “Dr. Fales” (seriously) and his angst-ridden daughter Alison. A newspaper advice columnist – “Dear Julie” – is ostensibly the lead, and her husband the editor, a couple grizzled detectives and Christopher Lloyd’s questionable handyman flesh out the additional roles. The murder weapon is a large pair of scissors, the suspicious car is yellow, and the women’s lib is, apparently, a fatal error in judgment.

why did i watch this movie?

It was some combination of the names “Klaus Kinski” and “Cannon Films,” I’m relatively certain. The straightforward nomenclature never hurts, either.

should you watch this movie?

I couldn’t really say there’s anything in particular to distinguish this flick from any of the dozens of similar dramatic chillers. Or hundreds, even.

highlight and low point

Early in this picture, Dr. Fales stares at a nearly nude Alison as she’s preparing to shower, which she induces by disrobing while talking to him, but this scene takes on even more disturbing overtones when one realizes Klaus Kinski’s eldest daughter accused him of years of sexual abuse. Christopher Lloyd plays a jerk rather than an eccentric here, Alison is played by Donna “High School Honor Student by Day, Hollywood Hooker by Night” Wilkes (1984’s Angel), and not one but two scenes take place in a hot tub. A decent job is done concealing the killer’s identity, with some suppositions and declarations thereby proving ironically accurate, and a seemingly irrelevant subplot likewise becomes crucial.

rating from outer space: C

All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
modernciné

Though troublesome in several ways – thematically, I mean – this unforeseen remake of the mostly unseen original kicks off with panache and fairly quickly vaults to a highly entertaining level before coming back to ground somewhat. But even as it slips gears a bit, it also manages to generate more tension than expected, deftly melding its comedic and horrific elements (mostly, anyway). Built on the framework of the earlier edition, it improves on the formula not only by dint of its professional production values, but also by revamping the script to make it less derivative. A worthy part of the McKee-Sivertson film family, definitely.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, man, I like most of McKee’s stuff, all right? Plus I had read good stuff about it.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a little slick, and carries a bit of the ’90s meta horror vibe, and I suppose that may dissuade some of you.

highlight and low point

The witchcraft angle in this version is a lot more front-and-center than in the first take; one of the characters is an out-and-proud witch, and that works well for both the high-school setting and a nice moment of self-actualization later in the picture. It also adds not a little fun ‘n’ games to the mix. The interplay between the cheerleaders is also entertaining, although the sapphic teensploitation is dubious, to say the least. The film also eventually touches on the uncomfortable topic of acquaintance rape, after having portrayed male-on-female battery and indicting a willful cultural ignorance of its import. (Remember, folks, this is a horror comedy!) The closing credits play over a hodgepodge of tunes, as they did in the premier version.

rating from outer space: B

hmmm … or IS it

Matriarch (2018)

written and directed by scott vickers
new light films

For a picture with nary an original idea, this production set in Scotland ended up being a taut, gripping, well-paced story, with a twist here and there – some interesting, some incredulous, and some superfluous – to differentiate it from the pack … slightly. Overall, however, very little happens in this flick that you haven’t experienced before, except for maybe the nearly impenetrable Scotch accents of a pair of extremely minor characters. (Seriously, I could have used English subtitles for their dialogue.) On the plus side, it’s very well filmed, acted and directed and all that. But c’mon, this is the synopsis: “An expecting mother and husband crash their car in the countryside and are offered shelter by a farmer and his wife. Soon they realize,” etc. I suppose the intense Christianity of the rural family qualifies as an innovative attempt, but let’s face it, twisting the orientation and bearing of religions and the religious isn’t exactly a brand-new concept for a horror movie, either.

why did i watch this movie?

Well, it didn’t seem to involve demonic possession, so that was a plus.

should you watch this movie?

I mean … it has its moments, but it just kinda follows the template, really.

highlight and low point

a tense and gripping scene

The isolated family is very effectively creepy, particularly the taciturn father played by Alan Cuthbert, who expresses malevolence with naught but his baleful silence at times. What could have been an overwhelmingly terrifying sequence was mostly spoiled by a dire lack of acceptable realism, however, and what may have been intended as a SHOCKING twist at the conclusion just falls flat. One minor unexpected revelation manages to be humorously chilling, and the dismal ambience is effectively sustained.

rating from outer space: B

Body Snatchers (1993)

directed by abel ferrara
a robert h. solo production

Well, I was certainly unaware they’d ever made this adaptation of the hoary classic. A thoroughly modern retelling – circa its ’90s setting – it’s mostly unnecessary, and though it tries to evoke the kind of slowly dawning realization that humanity is doomed (DOOMED, I tell you!) that pervades the original and its 1978 remake, the moment is effectively subsumed by the bitchin’ revenge sequence, and not reinvigorated by the predictably ambiguous ending. I will give it credit for engaging in some action that would totally not pass muster in these jingoistic times, but not for underutilizing Meg Tilly. Too slick and stylized, in the then-modern mode of a moody music video, and with its suspense consistently undercut by the ease with which one can identify who the good guys are. Not too sure why somebody thought this was necessary.

why did i watch this movie?

First, I was all like, wait, they made another version of that? And then I noticed who directed it.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a curiosity and nothing more.

highlight and low point

Along with featuring its heroes blowing up Army bases and troops, another little wrinkle that would be a no-go taboo today is that although Gabrielle Anwar’s character in the story is 17, she has a nude scene. I guess the most affecting parts of the flick rely on the barely explored family tensions, because surely the unexplained existence of the now-aquatic pods and the largely ignored military hierarchy don’t carry much weight. How the replicated humanoids detect and alert their kind to the existence of humans in their midst is completely laughable and generically evocative.

rating from outer space: C−

Invitation to Hell (1984)

directed by wes craven
moonlight productions, II

I don’t think I realized this was a made-for-TV picture when I opted to watch it, and I’m kinda glad, as that’s where a lot of what passes for its charm resides. Well, that and the oh-so-’80s themes and vibe, from its stars (Robert Urich! Soleil Moon Frye!) to its heavy-handed insistence on conformity and social climbing – “The last 10 years haven’t been easy on us, Matt … and I want a piece of the pie” – and let’s not overlook that it’s centered around a company called “Micro-Digitech” and a mysteriously affiliated country club. It couldn’t have been more of the moment. Unfortunately, aside from its high kitsch quotient, this flick doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. Nothing about it will surprise you, and it probably could’ve done with less content restriction than primetime viewing would allow.

note: NOT product placement

why did i watch this movie?

By now you probably know the answer to that question.

should you watch this movie?

Though it’s the kind of thing that should’ve just been sealed in a time capsule, not used for actual entertainment purposes, this production is rather amusing, if quite lightweight.

highlight and low point

For a forgettable and mostly ridiculous period piece, it must be noted that taken piecemeal it offers high value. From Susan Lucci’s vampy society hostess to Kevin McCarthy’s telling inclusion, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. (I particularly enjoyed that the location of the veterinarian’s home business was highly reminiscent of that of the Devil Dog kennels, much as the Winslow family’s house appears to be located in the same neighborhood.) The ludicrously rudimentary FX leading into the finale would have to be seen to be believed.

Rating from outer space: C−

Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak (1995)

directed by stuart gordon
full moon entertainment

The movie business is a cutthroat and fickle marketplace, of course, and that reality is exemplified in the fact that this entertaining little horror was consigned to the straight-to-video realm despite its director’s pedigree and track record. Or because of it, maybe. Whatever the case, this Italian production deserved at least a short run in the second-thought weekend theaters of Middle America. An outlandish tale of an inheritance gone terribly wrong due to an incredible oversight (or two), with comedic values so dark they border on sick, and some distinctive gore that yet manages to preserve an air of restraint, I could not locate whatever intrinsic flaw condemned it to its rental-store destiny. It even has random, unnecessary nudity, for crying out loud. Sure, it doesn’t really follow some of its convoluted plot points to any sort of conclusion, dodging an opportunity to make things really interesting, and ends abruptly without much of any resolution, but I rather doubt such a condition would negatively affect anybody’s overall opinion.

why did i watch this movie?

I think this one falls into the “why hadn’t I already seen this?” category … Combs! Crampton! Alleged H.P. Lovecraft inspiration!

should you watch this movie?

Why haven’t you already seen it?

highlight and low point

The sequence beginning with Jeffrey Combs’s John Reilly getting drunk and culminating in the polizia coming to talk to him about a missing woman features all of the little things that make this picture work: passion, pathos, subtle humor, grievous bodily harm. It takes kind of a long time for the action to start rolling, however, and maybe a little too long for any of the muddled family stories to begin to make sense.

rating from outer space: B+

The Ugly (1997)

written & directed by scott reynolds
essential productions/the new zealand film commission

What a deft accomplishment this New Zealand production is. With a setting straight out of the mundane – serial killer in asylum, being interviewed by psychiatrist – this nifty little low-budget film never settles for the industry standard, a directive it follows all the way through to the end. Piecing together fragments of the story as it proceeds – symbolically represented by events in the story itself – the question becomes how much of the killer’s version one is expected to believe. With its effects largely confined to jarring cuts and hazy flashes, and much of its overt violence glimpsed therein, an enigmatic aura is created and sustained. Though as the film moves past its climax it begins to rely a little too much on what may perhaps be manifestations of the mind of the madman, enough quirks and curveballs are presented along the way to avert predictability. The final scene is no exception. Interpretations may vary.

why did i watch this movie?

1990s. Saw some reviews or blurbs that said it was a little offbeat, and affecting.

should you watch this movie?

Aficionados of little-known horror flicks should definitely search for this one. Really, those who are more than casual fans of the genre would most likely appreciate it.

highlight and low point

The unique presentation of the material stands out, because – again – this is well-trodden territory, but it never quite feels that way while on view. The characterizations are interesting and not straight from central casting, as it were. The filmmakers also do a credible job despite very apparent fiscal constraints. On the downside, at times some deliberately outré details seem too intentional, and a few issues the script didn’t intend to raise might rankle a bit.

rating from outer space: A−