Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)

written & directed by kevin s. Tenney
trimark pictures/Blue Rider Pictures

It was surprisingly difficult to access this cinematic … accomplishment, but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as the truly sublime can often be misunderstood in its own era and lost to the mists of time. Such a fate didn’t befall this assuredly pedestrian and laughably underwhelming piece of schlock, of course, but this humdinger strikes just about every single note on the Space Rats scale. It also encompasses every trick in the straight-to-video book, and even includes unbelievably cliché visuals one step removed from stock footage. Loads of laughs, most (all?) of which are completely unintentional, owe a great deal to the completely ridiculous depiction of various aspects of the legal world, and the various thespians competing to be the least convincing also abet the cause. Really, the hackneyed plot is one of the lesser worries here. You notice I didn’t say Richard even mention the “puppet” yet?

why did i watch this movie?

Weeeellll, I was looking for another thrilling thriller from the 1990s, and I wanna say I noticed the, uh, critical éclat for this flick, but maybe it just sounded dumb enough to suit my purposes – I really can’t recall.

should you watch this movie?

Oh, my questionable tastes definitely recommend that course of action.

highlight and low point

Golly, so much to choose from … I think I’m going to have to go with the various scenarios related to the suspicious suffering of our lead character’s significant other, however. The nanny’s absurd and inconsistent accent also deserves consideration, as do any number of undersold reaction shots. And one must not neglect the remarkable school bus scene. Soap‘s Fr. Timothy Flotsky (Sal Viscuso) allegedly has a bit part in this picture.

rating from outer space: C−

Darlin’ (2019)

written & directed by pollyanna mcintosh
hood river entertainment

Oh, man, THIS is why sequels have such a bad reputation. Wilfully destroying the disturbing mythos and gripping power of Offspring and The Woman (not to mention Off Season, the Jack Ketchum novel that started the series), Darlin’ is a dispiritingly transparent and simplistic reexamination of some of the same themes as Lucky McKee‘s “Woman,” only without much of anything to recommend it in any way. Oddly, it was created and helmed by Pollyanna McIntosh, who one would presume to have more of an investment in extending the character’s draw. Poorly conceived, unconvincingly executed, predictable, and incongruously sentimental, I am really at a loss as to why on earth this movie was produced.

why did i watch this movie?

I‘m a sucker. for some reason thought a follow-up to The Woman would be a fascinating study of the ongoing attempts of primitive cannibals to survive in modern society, plus who hasn’t pondered how former members of that society might adapt to devolution in the aftermath of all they’d experienced?

should you watch this movie?

It does not address any of the above concerns.

highlight and low point

The word that springs to mind for this film’s treatment of religious institutions and the priesthood is “facile.” It’s maddeningly stereotypical, and the main target is two-dimensional and untrustworthy from his first moments onscreen. Also, the only sympathetic male character is gay, just in case you were somehow missing the incisive social commentary. Such lack of nuance really detracts from whatever the hell the point is supposed to be. Furthermore, the structure of the film very closely parallels that of The Woman, only with an extremely dubious subtheme of awakening or self-reliance or self-preservation or some such. Ridiculous.

rating from outer space: d−

Nightmare aka Nightmare(s) in a Damaged Brain (1981)

written and directed by romano scavolini
goldmine productions inc.

Despite some questionable casting choices and unconvincing acting in several minor roles, this curiosity is actually a serious study of derangement and childhood trauma, murderous impulses and psychosis, a story of a mental patient who escapes and heads south. Grisly and graphic, it features a helluva shock early on and never settles much into complacency. Unfortunately, the saga drags a bit as it proceeds, especially when it focuses on the obnoxious children of a dysfunctional family. (Mom is little better.) The ending is unnecessarily confusing, especially as it shouldn’t be, due to an inexplicable – and uncharacteristic – refusal to let the camera linger.

why did i watch this movie?

Notorious in its day, it fit a bunch of my usual touchstones.

should you watch this movie?

“You lose a dangerously psychotic patient from a secret experimental drug program, and all you can say is ‘I’m sorry’? … Paul, you believed in these drugs and – you rebuilt this man and you did put him back out on the street, but now –he’s out there killing people, and we can’t have that.”

highlight and low point

The insanely over-the-top initial murder scene has to top this list, but many other aspects of this production might jostle for position. Baird Stafford’s portrayal of the disturbed lead is unsettling, one particular murder is disconcertingly realistic, and the director doesn’t scrimp on now-amusing portrayals of computer analysis OR graphic shots of female pudenda. (Times Square peep shows.) The lines quoted above are spoken by a character played by the producer, so perhaps unsurprisingly, the production paradox rules here: one might think this film would have been better were it more professionally accomplished, but any such consideration probably would have denatured it too much.

rating from outer space: B−

Nattevagten aka Nightwatch (1994)

written and directed by ole Bornedal
thura film/danish film institute/danmarks radio

This melodramatic Norwegian thriller unspools very slowly, a study of the intertwined and dissipated lives of two college friends and their girlfriends. Martin, a law student, takes a late-night watchman’s job in a mortuary; his friend Jens seems mainly intent on drinking and causing problems. Meanwhile, a killer’s on the loose. INTERESTING, isn’t it. Little development of the story takes place until very late, at which point we are intended to wonder which of the main characters we are supposed to distrust. The requisite twist is effective enough, as it’s nurtured and revealed with subtlety, and it’s only somewhat after the fact that one realizes one could drive a goddamn truck through the very significant hole in the plot. The movie ends in laughter – on the screen, I mean; it has a happy ending. Bornedal remade it three years later in English.

why did i watch this movie?

This is yet another title I’ve mulled over many a time. I went ahead with it because it’s a ’90s production, and from Scandinavia.

should you watch this movie?

This is not the film to watch if you demand a lot of exciting action, though eventually significant unease does mount.

highlight and low point

An excruciatingly uncomfortable scene in a restaurant bests a similarly embarrassing moment in a church, and the unraveling of the mystery at the picture’s heart is downplayed to such an extent that its solution is presented in a winningly matter-of-fact sequence. Wondrously anticlimactic, it is. In the main role, Nikolaj Coster Waldau did not impress me much as a thespian. I mentioned the inexplicable plot issue, which is nearly as bad as the one that derailed the otherwise excellent Haute tension in 2003.

rating from outer space: B−

La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla Tomba aka The night Evelyn came out of the grave (1971)

directed by emilio p. miraglia
phoenix cinematografica roma s.p.a.

I don’t know about you, but with a title like this one, I found myself expecting a shoddily filmed 76-minute exploitation picture about vengeful undead … so in a sense I was sorely disappointed by this lavish Italian epic of misdirection and aristocratic shenanigans. I was NOT disappointed, however, by the fact that this film delights in trying to live up to the finest tradition of the giallo (the literal translation of which is “doesn’t make a lick of sense”*). But I WAS disappointed that everything resolves itself in a fairly straightforward manner. Of course, at least one major loose end isn’t even addressed, so that redeems matters somewhat. As for Evelyn and her grave, don’t even ask about that. Trust me.

*untrue

why did i watch this movie?

 I was perusing a website from which I download music, and someone posted this extravaganza’s soundtrack. I had to know more, what with the name and all.

should you watch this movie?

Though mildly diverting, it really doesn’t deliver the goods, as it never commits itself enough to do so. Hey, that’s a mild pun, as the storyline concerns the main character’s mental condition!

highlight and low point

Okay, seriously, a really good movie could have been constructed out of this muddle. Unfortunately, that’s not the movie they made. For instance, one or more characters is revealed not to be what he or she seems to be – but these revelations are irrelevant to anything that subsequently occurs. And once all the confabulations are sorted, it’s not unlike any standard episode of any crime or detective drama. Erika Blanc‘s role isn’t substantial enough, although her character’s disreputability compensates somewhat.

rating from outer space: c−

you keep this by your pool, too, right?

Beyond the Door aka Chi sei? aka The Devil Within Her aka Behind the Door aka Who Are You? etc. (1974)

directed by o. hellman and r. barrett
a. erre cinematografica, s.r.L.

SUCH a ripoff of The Exorcist (and Rosemary’s Baby) that  … oh, God help us, maybe this isn’t fiction at all! Maybe it’s – A WARNING! (In an ordinary horror flick, right about now you’d get some clamorous sounds, maybe piercing strings, I dunno, but herein you get, like, afro-jazz-funk.) You’re not even going to believe this, but I recognized the name of one of the cameraman in the credits, Maurizio Maggi, because he also worked on L’occhio nel Labirinto. Was he the entity responsible for all the double exposures here? How much overtime did the sound guys have to put in to create all the overdubs? That was quite the feat of editing, let me tell you. This foreign-market plagiarism is occasionally almost scary, even.

why did i watch this movie?

Redd Kross is entirely to blame.

should you watch this movie?

It manages to be intermittently entertaining, with scads of bizarre minor details, but mostly due to its utter shamelessness. The dubbed script is of course masterful:

“No doctor can possibly explain her pregnancy.”
“What do you mean?”
“It is not … explainable.”

(Luckily for the devil’s surrogate, her condition arises post-Roe v. Wade, so she is advised by her doctor that she can terminate the diabolic fetus “should we come to the conclusion that your pregnancy creates a definite hazard to your … physical, or mental health.” She demurs, however.)

Oh, and the sound design really is pretty effective.

highlight and low point

When the character named after one of the directors is hassled by a street musician emulating Rahsaan Roland Kirk, well, that’s something you sure don’t see every day. A sequence that transforms the (human) children’s bedroom into a dangerous funhouse is impressive.

rating from outer space: d

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