Cut (2000)

directed by kimble rendall
beyond films/mushroom pictures/mbp/south australian film corporation

Another Australian horror comedy? Okay, sure, why not. Dispensing with overt laffs in favor of a general mood that isn’t all too serious, this filming-of-a-film-within-a-film is about the attempt to finish, uh, filming a film. Which was never finished. Said celluloid seems to be cursed, you see, as mayhem and terror ensues whenever anyone even tries screening the reels that remain of the initial endeavor. Despite that, some plucky young film students are determined to make a go of it, their professor’s objections notwithstanding. For a largely unheralded picture languishing in smaller-foreign-film obscurity, this flick is a pretty good time, even if saddled with a pretty ridiculous underlying concept. (To be fair, it’s generally internally consistent, which is always a plus in my book.) Molly Ringwald has a meta role as a onetime name actress who agrees to take a scream-queen part in a DIY indie production.

why did i watch this movie?

Probably because it’s Australian, a condition I usually find signifies a certain reliability. After making the selection, however, I held off for a while because the whole “horror film shoot or equivalent plagued by slasher or equivalent” isn’t the                                                                             most innovative idea.

should you watch this movie?

Ultimately, it doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. If you’re looking for cinematic entertainment you don’t have to get too involved with, though, this’ll do.

highlight and low point

Really, the fact that the director was a founding member of the quirky rave-up combo (Le) Hoodoo Gurus leads this category. How random is that? The script could’ve worked harder to create misdirection about the killer’s identity, and it feels as though some opportunities were missed in observing the lineage of the fateful film.

rating from outer space: C+

Coma (1978)

directed by michael crichton
produced by martin erlichman

Man, did the ad campaign for this novel and movie combo strike very young me as eerie back in the day. And this film is well creepy enough, though what seemed to be the most troubling aspect when I was 6 or whatever pales in comparison to the REAL HORROR to be found in this science fiction medical thriller from the lens of noted bestselling author and petulant crank Michael Crichton. (The novel was penned by Robin Cook, however, and that was not a Crichton pseudonym.) Genevieve Bujold plays a Boston Memorial hospital resident surgeon who becomes Suspicious of inexplicable goings-on, which she doggedly investigates at her own growing peril. Michael Douglas plays her unsympathetic boyfriend who seems enmeshed in the machinations. Conspiracy, malpractice, Brahmin rants, technological obsession, it’s all there. Credulity may be strained.


why did i watch this movie?

Basically, because I’d never seen it. I was in an indecisive mood, came across this title and thought, yeah, seems like the right time.


should you watch this movie?

Why not enjoy a blockbuster hit of yesteryear? I myself “like” being reminded of how wonderful the U.S. healthcare industrial complex was, is, and always shall be.

highlight and low point

I’m told the mysterious “Jefferson Institute” is an example of “Brutalist” architecture, but I was distracted by debating how certain 1970s visual aesthetics in this picture related to those in cinematic adaptations of Crichton material that he didn’t himself film. Along with presumed similarities between Crichton material and this production’s source. (I haven’t read the Cook novel.) It was hard not to contemplate the fact that Crichton was, of course, trained as a medical doctor. Michael Douglas is really good playing a jerk, no big surprise there.

rating from outer space: B+

The Night Flier aka Stephen King’s The Night Flier (1997)

directed by Mark Pavia
New Amsterdam Entertainment™ Incorporated/Stardust International Ltd./Medusa Film S.p.A

Based on an S. King short story I hadn’t read – it’s in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, the titles of which mainly don’t ring a bell, with the exception of “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” which I recall detesting – this archetypal B movie was financed by European concerns and tells a tale of Richard Dees and the tabloid “Inside View,” both names I will go ahead and presume you recall from The Dead Zone, by which I mean the novel, not the dreadful film adaptation directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken. The titular “flier” – and why the heck isn’t it “flyer,” anyway? – is a vampire airman going by the meta name “Dwight Renfield.” That’s it, that’s the story. With oh-so-subtle parallels drawn to the journalistic pursuit of. Some form of the twist ending you will likely foresee.

why did i watch this movie?

I wasn’t feeling the two pictures that formerly had been slated, possibly as a result of having just watched all nine “Episodes” of the Skywalker Saga triple trilogy, but I WAS in the mood for something based on the timeless works of S. King. The Under the Dome series wasn’t doing it for me and I had yet to discover the three seasons of Mr. Mercedes, so I went with this.


should you watch this movie?

If you’re an I’m-fine-sticking-with-basic-cable-and-terrestrial-channels type, go for it.

highlight and low point

The climactic scenes are pretty gratifying, especially given how ridiculous the vampire looks when finally we see its face. Some subsequent action even manages to atone for that. The rest is pretty standard low-budget middle-of-the-road mild
horror. It’s more of a character study, really …
which, you know, S. King.

rating from outer space: b−

Ladrones de tumbas aka Grave Robbers (1989)

directed by ruben galindo jr.
producciones torrente s.a.

A gleefully gory tale of demonic retribution (or something) that somehow keeps a straight face throughout its often surprisingly effective graveyard-campsite-and-church assault, this Mexican extravaganza has a little bit of everything you’d expect: lustful Inquisition monks, young people up to no good, stalwart lawmen, holy writ, and a whole lot of shrill screaming. Despite the obviously unreal nature of the proceedings – we are, after all, dealing with the undead, unless one considers that condition differently when Satanic possession is in play – only a few moments provoke disbelieving laughter, and even the evil rejuvenated monk’s makeup job works pretty well. And for all the hints of or nods to well-worn potboiler themes or tactics, well … I’m not sure where else you could reasonably expect to go with this material. Call it “classically themed” and move on.

 
why did i watch this movie?

My previous selection was known as “Grave Secrets,” and was released the same year as this one. Plus, a Mexican production felt like a good idea.

should you watch this movie?

Right from the start, it hits all the notes. You more or less know what you’re going to be getting, and you get it. Plus some nifty depictions of attacks from la hacha.

highlight and low point

There’s an interesting twist to the method of dealing with the supernatural fiend, which is especially welcome given the prevalence of so many other standard-issue tropes. Sociologically, you’d have to go with the quartet of young adults who pursue grave robbing as, like, their career choice, because how else are they supposed to earn a living? The occasional melding of diverse genre elements is also fun. A glaring continuity error provoked a literal double take on my part.

rating from outer space: B

Peeping Tom (1960)

directed by michael powell
a michael powell production

Dammit, I accidentally watched a real, actual movie again. And quite a controversial one, at that … it ruined its director’s career, only to later be championed by the next wave of adversarial auteurs. Not unlike its contemporary Psycho in some ways, this picture seems, through a contemporary lens (yes), almost to revel in its very Britishness at the dawn of what would prove to be a challenging new decade. Predicated on camerawork, this is also the type of production of which overly serious theorists must debate representations of the audience’s gaze, etc. For a bonus, it may remind some of John Watson’s notorious “Little Albert” experiment, especially if it was covered in a class they were taking when they watched it. That’s just wild conjecture, mind. (You know, they say it’s never too late to go back to school, but I’m not so sure about that.) One could probably do a deep dive into some of the intertwined psychologies contained herein, and someone probably has.


why did i watch this movie?

Sorry, I can’t help ya there … I fear I’m drawing a complete blank.

 
should you watch this movie?

It’s pretty ponderous and lends itself a little too easily to lampooning in certain regards, especially Karlheinz (“Carl Boehm”) Böhm’s lugubrious lead. And it’s definitely too theatrical in its blocking and many of its characterizations. (It will not stun you with its realism.) The enigma is nicely layered, however, and revealed with fine pacing.

highlight and low point

The depiction of the spirited young lady, plunging ahead without guile but also not without a certain heedlessness, her self-direction verging on the presumptuous, is pretty spot-on. The intricacies of the various familial tanglings would make for quite a diagram.

Rating from outer space: B

Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)

directed by mark freed
noma productions

It wasn’t until I’d finished this redoubtable inanity that it occurred to me that “1991” seemed to be an inaccurate release date. Surely, I thought, it must’ve been filmed years earlier and languished until it found a video-shelf release date. Allegedly, however, it was committed to celluloid in 1990. Well, these folks must have been living in a wormhole or something, because it sure looks and sounds a lot more like 1988 or so. Splitting hairs, you might think – but wait until you see the fright wig “Angel” sports. “Angel,” of course, for some reason wants to join a horrible band with a singer wearing Richard Simmons’ castoff outfits, so he makes a deal with a voodoo queen (!) to become a demonic guitar hero or some such. Traci Lords plays the non-bimbo in the cast, and all you readers of “Hit Parader” from ye olden daze will be delighted to know that “Michael Angelo” is the stunt stand-in for all the SHREDDING. This is purportedly the last role on the long downslope of the career of blogfriend Aldo Ray.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded stupid as hell. But how, I wondered, would it match up with, say, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare or Black Roses, or even Rocktober Blood? And do I need a new hobby, or what?


should you watch this movie?

Somehow, someway, it’s actually watchable – acceptable, even. Maybe it’s even more tongue-in-cheek than it seems. Maybe it’s that self-aware. The songs, unfortunately (?), don’t actually approximate the hair era’s so-called “metal.”

highlight and low point

The production values basically don’t exist at all, though we are treated to green glowing eyes at times of … uh, manifestation. The band members cannot act, at all. The period decorations are choice.

rating from outer space: B+

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie aka No profanar el sueño de los muertos aka Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti aka Don’t Open The Window (1974)

directed by jorge grau
star films s.a./flaminia produzioni cinematografiche

So, after multiple examples of movies not living up to whatever (fair or unfair) expectations I had, here we have one that wildly exceeded them. This Spanish-Italian production sets its eldritch tale of the undead – rejuvenated by a newfangled agricultural invention utilizing radiation for pest control – in the British countryside, and boasts some truly intimidating zombies. They can’t be stopped, and they waste no time in disemboweling their prey, to dine with zeal and relish. Of course, no self-respecting story of the unexplainable would be complete without the dismissive lead investigator and obstructionist local gendarmes, and for a special bonus, these immediately pin the blame on those damn longhaired kids and their drugs and free love. Stupendous.

why did i watch this movie?

Not totally certain, but I was looking for 1970s product and the title I found announced this one as “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.” So I gave it a whirl.


should you watch this movie?

“Couple of drug-crazy maniacs.”
“Oh, worse than that, sergeant. Have you ever come across any of these Satanists … in your investigations?”

“No, but I’ve heard about them. Here, you don’t think –”
“They vandalize cemeteries. They profane tombs. And, you know, hold black masses … that’s why you’ve got your cross. Looks to me like a pretty typical case.”

highlight and low point

The  plot here takes a while to unfold, which proves to be gratifying. The experimental agronomics are tremendously unconvincing. The doctor is remarkably placid. Nearly everyone hates the youthful on sight. But Arthur Kennedy‘s Inspector can’t be topped. Seriously: “You’re all the same, the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes … drugs, sex, every sort of filth. And you hate the police, don’t ya.”

rating from outer space: A−

Mimic (1997)

directed by guillermo del toro
miramax films

Now that I know this is a Guillermo Del Toro production – I mean, now that I know who that is, as I didn’t when I first saw this film – it seems so obvious. The bugs, the labyrinthine depths, the hokum religiosity, the brooding shadows. And the heaviness. Everything’s so portentous, all the time. But when you’re dealing with hybrid mutant DNA experiments threatening the very existence of man – nay, humankind – I guess that’s allowed. So come on, let’s get metaphysical. Personally, I always enjoy it when movies take advantage of the legendary lost/abandoned/forgotten/secret NYC subway stations. It’s like its own Atlantean fable at this point. But anyway, Mira Sorvino plays an entomologist who something something something the CDC and uh-oh now there’s a Rob Bottin creature creation. And a bit of a wannabe action flick besides.

why did i watch this movie?

As has been a burgeoning mini-theme lately, I saw this in the theater BITD, and had been meaning to recontemplate it ever since I screened that other Del Toro picture.

should you watch this movie?

It’s nothing too memorable, really.
(Hell, I didn’t even remember THAT.)

highlight and low point

Flimflam “science” is always good for a laff, and there’s a moment or two where the shivers might get to you, but overall this is kind of a trudge through the mundane … which is sorta remarkable, given that it concerns bioengineered insects that can convincingly portray people. Ms. Sorvino does not come across as a terribly convincing entomologist, though I will admit, I haven’t met any to whom I can compare her. The very final moments of touching humanity in this film are fraudulently cloying postproduction dubs. This version was the “director’s cut,” which okay, sure.

rating from outer space: C

The Relic (1997)

directed by peter hyams
pacific western, cloud nine entertainment, polygram filmed entertainment, marubeni, toho-towa, tele-münchen, bbc et al.

The sort of well-budgeted Hollywood horror thriller that eventually must become just another iteration of Alien, this vehicle for nobody in particular boasts, above anything else, a bland technical competence as its calling card. You can pick which stock character is your fave, but I vote for “the Mayor” (pun definitely intended) throwing his weight around as if “Chicago” is his personal fiefdom. You will recognize the outline: anthropologist mysteriously doesn’t return from an expedition, but a RELIC (which by the way has almost nothing to do with anything else that happens here) does, and then a creature you barely see for most of the picture slaughters a bunch of people, in the dark. WHAT’S the connection? WILL the day be saved? The End. Wait, let’s at least give ’em credit for not jamming in a subplot featuring a developing love story.

why did i watch this movie?

Long ago, I saw this flick in the theater, much as I did many of its ilk*, and I remembered almost nothing about it. For good reason, as it turns out.

*Species! Species 2! Mimic! The Faculty! It was the ’90s, man!
Creepy monsters were all around us!

should you watch this movie?

See that list of entities responsible for cobbling this feature together? That’s a focus group, and the result was this bland consensus.

highlight and low point

The most interesting thing about this production is how remarkably generic it is. From the opening scenes of the scientist’s “fieldwork” (featuring “natives”) all the way to the – “spoiler alert” – preposterous death throes of the mutant-DNA monster, it just follows the template. Through tunnels, and occasionally through glass.

rating from outer space: D


©1972 E.C. Publications, Inc.

 

Horror High (1973)

directed by larry n. stouffer
jamieson film company

What great fun this cheap little ripoff drive-in picture is! Not even making any bones about deriving its plot from (the Strange Case of) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this no-budget quickie for some reason features several then-NFL stars in cameo roles, mainly as cops. A few skulls are bandied about, along with copious amounts of very fake blood, the makeup FX are even more minimal than in The Prey, and I’m a little abashed that I didn’t recognize Rosie Holotik from Don’t Look in the Basement. Groovy soundtrack song – “Vernon’s Theme,” so earnest and so redolent of its era I laughed out loud – and a whole lotta folks WAY too old to be playing high schoolers round out this gritty drama, devotedly infused with as much pathos as could conceivably be concocted … in a Chemistry lab, say. Put it on your list of overlooked cut-rate gems, it’s worth it.

why did i watch this movie?

I confess, I have no idea. Maybe the fact that I’ve seen 1987’s completely unrelated (and also quite enjoyable!) Return to Horror High played a subconscious role. WHO can say.

Should you watch this movie?

While offering the usual caveat that semipro flicks like this played a major rôle in this blög’s very genesis, I must answer that query in the affirmative.

highlight and low point

A certain economy of scripting is something of a marvelous feat. Why or how can Vernon always be sneaking into the school building at any hour, one wonders … well, see, his mother’s dead and his dad travels for work a lot. The studying vignette with Robin, a bunch of books and a bowl of ice cream, is affecting. The paper cutter demanded more usage, though.

rating from outer space: B+