Smile (2022)

Written and Directed by Parker Finn
Temple Hill Entertainment

Don’t misconstrue what I’m about to say – but this film was kind of a letdown. See, it has one of the most effective and audacious pre-title sequences of anything I’ve seen any time recently (or ever), the kind that left me babbling aloud incoherently. If the entirety could somehow have sustained that, well, it would’ve been an all-timer. It couldn’t, of course, and so it isn’t, but regardless of its well-noted weaknesses, this picture remains an effective and intense depiction of one woman’s deteriorating mental space (and relationships, and existence). That there were many possibilities for what direction this production could have gone added to its impact, even if the route it chose was less than satisfying … though that’s open to interpretation, befitting the story. Feel free to ascribe to it your preferred symbolic framework.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I saw a commercial for it – you know, with the creepy woman. That’s all it took. Sometimes I’m an easy sell.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

Those who are less forgiving than me may find it too derivative at times, or too predictable at others, and yes, it leans very heavily on jump scares. (Despite all that, it sustained my interest.)

HIghlight and Low Point

I don’t think it’s out of the question that this pic could be read as being all in its protagonist’s mind – and indeed, it seems as though the filmmaker wants to encourage that suspicion with his prolific use of skewed or inverted camera angles. (Upside down equaling CRAZEE, etc.) The main character’s name is “Rose,” and when she finally meets the EVIL in its penultimate form, it looks a lot like “Marilyn Manson.” You can call that a coincidence, sure.

Rating From Outer Space: B−

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Directed by Damiano Damiani
Dino De Laurentiis Corporation

Ordinarily I have some inkling of how to start these pieces, but I confess, for this title I am somewhat at a loss. A prequel-of-sorts before such a thing became to a degree de rigueur for the horror film franchise – and not blameless in the rise of the horror film franchise itself, come to think of it – this ridiculous would-be epic shamelessly borrows from its, um, successor while also brazenly aping The Exorcist (or any of its already plentiful ripoffs). Along the way, it manages to toss in some hilarious disrespect to Church figures, the least believable courtroom scene since Night Court The Bonfire of the Vanities, a complicated incestuous relationship between siblings, spousal and child abuse, body horror, schlock FX, a priest kidnapping a patient from a hospital with police assistance, evil voice instructions, an “Indian burial ground,” and nearly everything else you could think of except red herrings and space aliens. An impressive accomplishment, really.

Why Did I Watch This MOvie?

I wish I could recall … something I was reading about another film led me to a synopsis of this one, and it provoked me. Because it sounded so lurid, I should add.


Should You Watch This MOvie?

It plays the way I figure a spoof of the “Scary Movie” ilk would. Fewer laffs, probably.


Highlight and Low Point

In what I can only term a dubiously satisfying twist, this picture’s fairly shameless imitation of possessed-person tropes from William Friedkin’s 1973 original offering is repaid fully by Exorcist III‘s borrowing of this flick’s jailhouse colloquies. Burt Young’s patriarch refers to the priest as “Priest,” as though it’s his name. At times, the house and “Sonny” seem simultaneously bewitched, enhancing the (everything-but-the) kitchen-sink undertakings. Kitchen sink included!

Rating From Outer Space:

The Blob (1988)

Directed by Chuck Russell
Palisades California, Inc.

This remake of the ’50s classic is not a horror comedy, and I don’t think I’d even describe it as being tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time, it’s not exactly a, you know, raw slice of life or anything of the sort. Diminishing somewhat its precursor’s contemporary Cold War setting for a more cynical view of the military-industrial complex – and right now I’m trying to remember what specifically in the late ’80s may have spawned the aspersions being cast herein – this picture does vividly evoke its era, at least for someone who was a teenager himself when it was made. (Perhaps the Eighties’ ongoing obsession with “The Fifties” was one reason this flick was produced.) And I enjoyed it about as much now as I did then, to boot. The foreboding ending even still carries portent in these throwback benighted times … unfortunately.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

One of the books I’m currently reading is It Came From The Closet: Queer Reflections on Horror; this film is one of the subjects of the essay “Indescribable” by contributor Carrow Narby. (“Of all the ‘classic’ monsters from folklore and film, the iconic blob monster never seems to get much attention as a queer figure, in scholarship or in popular media.”)

Should You Watch This Movie?

“Blobs are not queer incidentally. They are not queer simply because, through narrative contrivance, they might be associated with the destruction of heterosexual order, as in The Blob … The blob’s relationship to queerness is a product of its basic symbolic function.”

Highlight and Low Point

The essayist’s point is perhaps understandable given the archetypes proffered in this movie’s Americana: the football jocks, the wholesome cheerleader, the nuclear families, the longhaired punk, and so forth.

Rating From Outer Space: B+

Halloween Ends (2022)

Directed by David Gordon Green
Trancas International Films/Rough House Pictures/Universal Pictures/Miramax/Blumhouse

You remember in the remake of Friday the 13th how Jason had that underground lair? Well, Mikey Myers sorta has one of those in this idiotic picture, which additionally curries some Final Chapter/New Beginning zest. Which I guess is fitting, since this rebooted trilogy tried so hard to make “Michael” into J. Voorhees anyway. Most of Jamie Lee Curtis’s scenes are borderline unwatchable in this edition – allegedly the last of these, so we don’t have to pretend we’re interested anymore – and the voiceover narration of her (terrible) “book” is embarrassing. (Her minimal interactions with other cast members seem largely perfunctory as well.) Even for an endeavor that at best was going to be derivative and pandering, this release feels insipid, just one pat scene after another. And as usual, if you bother to think about any of it, it only gets dumber.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Title, date, obstinacy.

 
Should You Watch This MOvie?

The afternoon of the 31st, I listened to the Dead Kennedys album Plastic Surgery Disasters, in tribute to recently deceased drummer D.H. Peligro, because it contains the song “Halloween.” Coincidentally, a bar-party scene in this film features the two main characters dancing to that very same song.

Highlight and Low Point

I presume the (FOUR!) “writers” didn’t intend any anti-bullying message, especially given the namby-pamby transference BS they include. Reconfiguring the whole conceit of “The Shape” may be a halfway decent idea, or it just may be my transposition of their muddle. That Mike is something of an enfeebled afterthought here could be considered incisive commentary on the bogeyman-as-cipher … but isn’t played that way. The bottom line remains: no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

Rating From Outer Space: D−

Contagion (2011)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Double Feature Films/Gregory Jacobs

Maybe it’s not quite the feat of soothsaying it immediately may appear to be, but watching this picture with the hindsight of having lived through the brunt of the Covid disruption was a pretty amazing experience. And it’s a credit to Soderbergh’s artistry, I think, that I was so absorbed in the story he was telling that I didn’t even think about the REAL HORROR – which is of course that we knew, everybody knew, exactly what was going to happen when a real pandemic arose … and we did all the stupid things anyway, exacerbating a threatening situation until it became the deadliest farce imaginable. (Until the next one.) Too grim? Too pessimistic? Well, I’m typing this with a sore left arm, having gotten my second Covid booster (the new bivalent one) two days ago. And I still wear a mask every day at work. But I’m in the distinct minority there, where we also have some anti-vaxxers on staff. If you really think nothing else like Covid – or the unnamed SARS virus in this movie – will happen again, my question would then concern your level of trust in your fellow humans. You know, just in case.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

It was included in 100 American Horror Films by Barry Keith Grant, and I’d never seen it.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Because I’m cynical, and have no trust whatsoever in my fellow humans, my answer here is why fucking bother.


Highlight and Low Point

This picture is excellent, but I did have a problem with what I consider an ill-conceived subplot involving the abduction of a WHO epidemiologist in a political maneuver. It struck a discordant note of fiction in the film’s otherwise credible verisimilitude.

Rating From OUter Space: A−

The Bay (2012)

Directed by Barry Levinson
Baltimore Pictures/Haunted Movies

Like most people who prefer to believe they’re rational actors, I hear the descriptions “found footage” and “mockumentary” in the synopsis of a “horror film” and I metaphorically run the other way. Then again, it is also true that nearly every art form, no matter how dubious, contains within it the potential for the sublime, for a performance that can outstrip its lowly genesis.

There are two directions I could be headed here, right? “This is not that movie” or “The Bay is a stellar example.” Well, it’s the latter. Buttressed by some splendid performances amongst its nearly anonymous cast, and paced very effectively in the creeping dread of its reveals, this Barry Levinson production is an exemplary and audacious eco-terror. Something is terribly wrong in Chesapeake Bay, you see. Is chicken farming to blame? Perhaps yes, but it’s much more complicated than that. Even so, between this and Cooties, the poultry industry must have been glad that lower-tier fright flicks don’t generate a lot of societal uproar.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

‘Twas Independence Day, but I couldn’t make it through the blockbuster with that title; the action herein also takes place on said holiday.


Should You Watch This Movie?

As a Radical Leftist® who thinks commercial fishing should be banned, of course I endorse this picture.


Highlight and Low Point

I noted three major detractions from the “documentary” conceit: The American oceanographer constantly carping (sorry) about his French partner’s accent; the fact that the fish the oceanographers examined didn’t quite look freshly caught; and the improbably framed closeups on one character’s face as he drove. Most convincing murder/suicide scene I can imagine, though. And the interactions between the doctor and the CDC were eerily instructive.

Rating From Outer Space: A−

Cooties (2014)

Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion
Spectrevision/Glacier Films

I’m glad I’m not a real movie critic, because if I were I’d apparently have to be as humorless as I was when I was a music critic, and then I wouldn’t have enjoyed this terrific little picture nearly as much as I did. A (now much more) topical story of a mysterious viral outbreak, triggered by an infected meat product, that becomes a pandemic afflicting the prepubescent and turning them into merciless and ravenous killing agents, it’s as effectively targeted at teachers as Abbott Elementary, which it occasionally resembles (only with copious gore). It’s initially set in summer school, you see, and watching the transformation of foulmouthed fourth graders into zombified marauders – and the gleefully violent means to which their teachers resort to fight their way out – is … well, I guess I shouldn’t say it’s “heartwarming” if I want to keep my job, but it sure is grimly hilarious. This is some dark, dark, humor, and though it’s true, critic class, that it doesn’t breathe new life into blah blah blah, what the hell do you people want, anyway?

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I discovered it took place in scholastic environs, and I’m a professional educator.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Well, I thought it was fun. The usual “horror comedy” caveat applies.


Highlight and Low Point

I don’t wanna get up on my soapbox again, but relying on the “Asian” character to provide martial arts flash and noticeably accented speech is an unfortunate choice – even given the rather broadly drawn stereotypes of all the other grownup characters. (Macho man-child, burnout, flaming gay guy, histrionic, milksop, etc.) Amusing use is made of ADHD meds. Located in fictional town of “Fort Chicken, Illinois.” Adeptly vulgar.

Rating From Outer Space: B+

Matinee aka Midnight Matinee (1989)

Written and Directed by Richard Martin
“©1989 D Slayer Productions inc.”
Produced With the Participation of Téléfilm Canada
Produced in Association with B.C. Film

A Canadian made-for-TV picture about the aftermath of a mysterious murder at a horror-film festival and the threatening goings-on when a similar festival is attempted three years later, complete with a visit from a hotshot local-boy-done-good director and its impact on his estranged daughter and ex-wife, this is essentially an insanely melodramatic soap opera with some largely implied killings and an extremely low-key manner. For all that, it made for surprisingly compelling viewing, at least until it became obvious who the perpetrator must be and devolved into the requisite finale of stalking quarry through murk. Needed more montage scenes with anthemic accompaniment.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

It was in my “to watch” folder, and I didn’t have the foggiest notion what it was, although I knew it was a fairly recent addition. Once I started it, I just stuck with it.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Probably not? It’s more a somnolent (and lengthy) episode of any random crime drama than a proper motion picture, much less a scary one.


Highlight and Low Point

As is not uncommon with these sorts of affairs, the film festival(s) screen a number of faux flicks, of which we get to see glimpses. In this one, those titles are “Murder Camp,” “No Escape,” “The Sleepwalker,” “Bad Blood II” and “The Black Closet” … all of which would probably have been more entertaining than “Midnight Matinee.” William B. Davis plays director/guest/dad Heath Harris, and eventually I realized he was “Cancer Man” from The X Files. A pointless subplot about the intertwined pasts of “Detective Al Jason” and newspaper reporter “Geoff Oslam” is never explained or resolved.

Rating From Outer Space: C−

Q aka Q – The Winged Serpent (1982)

Written, Produced and Directed by Larry Cohen
LARCO PRODUCTIONS

Though this would appear to be a straightforward picture about a monstrous winged serpent randomly attacking New Yorkers, it’s actually the tale of an Aztec death cult that has managed to revivify its god Quetzalcoatl to … randomly attack New Yorkers, apparently. With that setup, this bonkers production is patently ridiculous on one level, obviously, but it’s buttressed immensely by the contributions of David Carradine, Richard Roundtree, Michael Moriarty and others. (Moriarty’s Jimmy Quinn alone presents quite the psychological study.) With several of the winged serpent’s attacks being blatantly – and thus amusingly – similar, this green-screened stop-motion monster extravaganza even manages to throw in an undercover cop purporting to be a mime. Larry Cohen, ladies and germs.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

A movie called “Q” about an inexplicable threat to ordinary citizens appealed to my sense of irony, or something. (Coincidentally, Moriarty is an expatriate American holding Canadian citizenship who once claimed he was starting a third party for “serious conservatives,” The Realists.)


Should you Watch This Movie?

Cohen knows how to make an entertaining film.


Highlight and Low Point

POWELL: “What I want to know is, how the hell does this tie in with the murders and the mutilations?”


SHEPARD
: “Well, that’s what brought it back … awakened it from its … centuries of sleep.

This thing has been … prayed … back into existence.”

POWELL: “Right.”

Hmm, maybe it’s not an accident this flick is called “Q” after all. Do your own research, people. Six-time National League All-Star Ron “Penguin” Cey, who played the last of his 12 seasons with the L.A. Dodgers in 1982, has a small role as “Detective Hoberman.” Was this a sly
reference to longtime Village Voice film
critic J. Hoberman? DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.

Rating From Outer Space: B+

Looker (1981)

Written and Directed by Michael Crichton
The Ladd company

This Michael Crichton picture had me musing during its latter portions that Michael Crichton was also responsible for the 1984 Tom Selleck-Gene $immon$ vehicle Runaway. Such a reminiscence is probably not a great endorsement for this production, but overall, this forgotten flick has its merits, even if they’re mainly historical rather than artistic. (It presages CGI, for one thing.) A lot of stuff here doesn’t make a whole lotta (or any) sense if you stop to think about it, but you’re supposed to be enraptured by the futurism and, probably, struck (dumb?) by the ironies and therefore not get around to asking such perplexing questions. It’s probably not a great sign, however, that IMDb claims some of those pertinent details are included in the made-for-TV edit, in scenes left on the theatrical version’s cutting-room floor … but since this film hinges on a plastic surgeon and his work with a bevy of commercial models, I suppose that’s perfectly appropriate.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I found it accidentally, hooked by the existence of a heretofore-unknown Crichton venture.



Should You Watch This Movie?

Maybe, if you’re also considering taking in Runaway.


Highlight and Low Point

Speaking of harbingers, this project allegedly arose because Congo was at the time unfilmable, what with its “gorilla” problem. In a nutshell: large corporation is engineering models to exacting specifications for use in adverts employing secret technology to mesmerize viewers (and killing them off – the models, that is – for some reason). Ooh, and they’ve got a flashlight gun! Susan Dey plays one of the “perfect” models. She has a brief scene with her parents that implies TV destroys family bonds. Dey is of course largely known for The Partridge Family and L.A. Law.

Rating From Outer Space: C−