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−

The Road Builder aka The Night Digger (1971)

directed by alastair reid
yongestreet productions/tacitus productions

Based on a novel with the unwieldy and unpromising title of “Nest in a Fallen Tree,” with a screenplay by Roald Dahl and starring his wife, this tale of suspense is very British, a study of drawing-room manners for the most part. Oh, but there’s a twist! Here we have a festering sense of resentment within the familial relationship that anchors the picture, a kinship upset and altered by the arrival of a young stranger. Now, some of what then occurs is basic dark British fodder; murders are perpetrated, suspicions are raised, and the village folk get to enjoy more of their favorite pastime (gossip, of course). Later, though, a murkier and more disturbing subplot develops, emotions are exploded, and the setting abruptly shifts entirely. An ambiguous ending completes the affair, which manages to entertain despite its lack of sensationalism.

why did i watch this movie?

I needed to balance out the recent spate of ’90s flicks – and I’ve lately covered a bunch of modern productions as well – so I sought a picture from the seventies, and this was the one I found.

should you watch this movie?

This is the sort of film that TV stations used to show on lazy weekend afternoons, as very little of it is at all lurid. It’s good, if understated, and definitely of a different era.

highlight and low point

The action takes off when a mysterious young man named “Billy” enters the tale, and I think we can all agree that’s a momentous circumstance. Actually, though, some displays of splendid acting, mainly concerning liminal expressions of emotion, are what impress most. Oddly, it appears this was an edited version of the movie, but I’m not sure any other rendition is readily available.

rating from outer space: B

Els sense nom aka Los sin nombre aka The Nameless aka La secta de los sin nombre (1999)

directed by jaume balaguerÓ
joan ginard p.c./sogedasa

Am I DONE with these ’90s movies yet. (No! There’s one more still to come!) Here we go with more metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, this time involving some sorta evil-worshiping cult whose aim is to … uh … to produce a pure evil being. I guess. I kinda wasn’t paying very careful attention, having been distracted by fragmentary flashbacks (à la Haunts) that for some reason made me think of Jacob’s Ladder – while also being discomfited by descriptions of the baddies’ philosophy that veered a little too close to that espoused in Martyrs, a movie of which I do not wish to do much contemplating or revisiting. All the rest of it is police-procedural-horror-mystery mashup, occasionally leavened by the inelegantly dubbed (and somewhat inaccurate) dialogue, and abrupt edits that provoked thoughts of rerelease abridgement. And with all of THAT being said, the end note still is fiendishly sour … but by the time it’s sounded, it doesn’t reverberate enough. Alas.

why did i watch this movie?

Remember when I started my quixotic quest to catch up on scary movies from the 1990s? I made a looooooooong list.

should you watch this movie?

You have seen a lotta pictures very similar to this one.

highlight and low point

Some of the action involves the exciting world of print journalism, so that was a plus for me personally. The conclusion, though fairly predictable, was also a bit more twisted than expected, but also exemplified one of this flick’s biggest problems. The existence of the weirdo title sect is given little attention and next to no development, which robs the production of its best opportunity to strike chills in the hearts of mortals (or equivalent). All the lip service paid to Nazis and theories of EVIL and this-and-that is mundane wasted exposition.

rating from outer space: C−

Splatter University (1984)

directed by richard w. Haines
richard w. haines productions/aquifilm co.

I guess I gotta admit that this objectively terrible movie is right in my wheelhouse, because although it’s completely, laughably awful, I can’t bring myself to pan it outright or consign it to the trash heap with some of the others I’ve slagged around here. But make no mistake – it’s not good, at all. The murder scenes are almost all exactly the same: character opens door, character sees knife brandished by unknown attacker, character gets stabbed in the abdomen, character dies. (The identity of the killer is easy to deduce, as well.) Many if not all of the characters are ridiculously exaggerated stereotypes, and attempts to portray “campus life” are in a similar vein. The only reason I imagine anyone would want to watch this movie is to remember a bygone era of moviemaking. The DIY ethos that the seventies made necessary in many areas of the arts was of considerable value … even if the artifacts it produced may not have been.

why did i watch this movie?

Hey, man …

should you watch this movie?

This picture was largely filmed in 1981, the credits at the end seem to read “1982,” and Troma eventually released it in 1984. Its entry on Horrorpedia includes the director’s explanation that to make it feature-length and “marketable,” a new beginning and ending were grafted onto it along with the abysmal attempts at wacky collegiate humor.

highlight and low point

As the credits rolled, I noticed the name “George Seminara” and thought, wait, the George Seminara? Yep, that one. The names of the Three Stooges are borrowed for character monikers, which amused me. Oh, and the lead role is played by “one of the most sought after female keynote speakers in the country.”

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−

Pizza (2014)

directed by akshay akkineni
UTV Spotboy/getaway films

This Indian production, a clever and stylish feature, is unfortunately too clever by half. The revelations that follow a somewhat arduous setup are more than less a cop-out, and as the SHOCKING finale meanders its way to the screen, it provokes not only disbelief but a couple very big questions that are impossible to ignore. This is in addition to the fact that the rather lengthy middle portion of the action itself raises a query or two as it transpires – deservedly so, as it turns out. Though it’s mostly enjoyable anyway, in the end this picture is a little too dependent on its comedic values and doesn’t maintain its attempted eeriness well enough. And it just don’t add up.

why did i watch this movie?

Its offbeat title, which does not suggest terror, drew my interest, and when I found out it’s actually a remake of a 2012 film, I had to know more. (Somehow, I missed that the 2012 flick was helmed by Karthik Subbaraj, who was responsible for last year’s Mercury.)

should you watch this movie?

You may well lose your patience during the previously described middle movement, or be exasperated by the wrap-up and finale. I’ll get back to you about the original at some later date.

highlight and low point

Several of the musical numbers in this picture serve as diagesis, including the catchy tune during the ridiculous animated title sequence, but I think my favorite factor is the unexplained origin of Slices of Mumbai’s “Pizzaria Napolitana” setting. As hinted at several times, the resolution is unwelcome and more than a little hackneyed, although I suppose credit is due for the filmmakers resisting the urge to double down on the supernatural element … until the dubious conclusion, anyway.

rating from outer space: C+

Jack Be Nimble (1993)

written & directed by garth maxwell
essential productions limited/new zealand film commission

Wow, what a strange movie this is. Though one never expects an original take when dipping into genre offerings, this New Zealand picture is playing entirely on its own field. And what a field it is … the polar opposite of a “feel-good” film, this neverending litany of miseries only lets up at the very end, with a seemingly tacked-on segment that feels suspiciously like an afterthought, but which instead may not have been meant as a representation of reality. Sometimes it’s rewarding when you finish a viewing wondering what in the hell you just watched, and this feature manages to provoke that same sense of confusion and intrigue throughout its duration. I mean, I had no idea where this one was heading – and given its overall bleakness and the uncomfortably horrific final scenes, I’m fairly glad about that.

why did i watch this movie?

This is another product of the 1990s, and I was lured in by the odd name and convinced by its description as a unique, psychological offering.

should you watch this movie?

Powerful in several different ways, it’s quite an experience if you’re looking for a less typical horror picture, fraught with emotional turmoil. It is not an easy watch.

highlight and low point

Though obviously one must suspend one’s disbelief for certain elements of a picture steeped in the paranormal, the conflict in this flick relies on its grounding in related phenomena without an apparent link or any explanation whatsoever. It’s just sort of dropped in there: oh, by the way, this can happen, too. Since most of the variant otherworldly or mystical manifestations are given at least some backstory, that slight is troubling. Alexis Arquette and Sarah Smuts-Kennedy play long-separated orphaned siblings very believably.

rating from outer space: a−