M.D.C – Maschera di cera aka La Máscara de Cera aka The Wax Mask (1997)

directed by sergio stivaletti
Cine 2000/mediaset/france film international

Dedicated to Lucio Fulci by its production team, due to some convoluted backstory (“Dario Argento Presenta”), this very mannered extravaganza boasts a visual sheen not quite in keeping with its turn-of-the-20th-century period setting, and spins a tale that, while engaging enough as it unspools, is somewhat undermined by a gaggle of absurdities at its center. The enigma that compels it doesn’t stay very mysterious for very long, despite the labored attempts by virtually everyone in the cast to vamp it up as much as possible, and the sumptuous costuming is somewhat hilariously at odds with what one must term the futurism at its core. (Were one inclined to be unkind, it could be called anachronistic, but as it’s a horror fable, what would even be the point.) At heart, it’s just kind of silly, another victim of the genre’s inability to stop rewriting stories that weren’t that interesting the first time around. See, it takes place in a WAX MUSEUM, would you believe. And what’s more!

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I’d have to guess at this point, but it’s most likely the release date, and maybe the intrigue underlying its production. (Argento wanted to help Fulci make a film, but Fulci died before filming began.)


Should You Watch This Movie?

It’s nearly interesting at times.


Highlight and Low Point

Despite its efforts, this production doesn’t do a very effective job of making it appear to be 1900 – it is too obvious that you are looking at sets and costumes. (The steampunk Re-Animator setup doesn’t much help in that regard, either.) The gore and pseudogore FX are pretty good, befitting the nominal director’s usual professional pursuits. The absurdly blatant ripoff of The Terminator, on the other hand …

Rating From Outer Space: C−

‘Salem’s Lot (2004)

Directed by Mikael Salomon
A Mark M. Wolper Production
in Association with Warner Bros. Television

Had I been aware this existed? I didn’t think so, but one scene convinced me I’d at least read about it somewhere before, and I have the sneaking suspicion it must have been a commentary by S. King himself. (I cannot confirm this.) Whatever the case, when I chanced upon it a few days prior to its viewing, a quick scan of its synopsis led me to think it would be nigh unwatchable, but that turned out to be far from the truth. Actually, one could argue the amendments made to the source text actually improve things, since it becomes a little bit less of a blatant rewrite of Dracula in this iteration. Hampered a bit by the need to be palatable enough to serve a basic-cable television audience, and also by the curious handling of the Barlow character, the three-hour runtime felt appropriate. Bringing the story into a more contemporary setting didn’t hurt, either, although I would argue it didn’t resemble “Maine” in the least … were it not for the fact I’ve never been to Maine, so how would I know.

Why Did I Watch This MOvie?

As I’ve never posted a review of Tobe Hooper’s CBS-TV version of this story, I had planned to rewatch that, but at a certain point in the proceedings I became aware of this one and switched allegiances.


Should You Watch This Movie?

I’ll say this, it wasn’t the easiest thing to find.


Highlight and Low Point

The casting is sometimes questionable. Rob Lowe’s a pretty good Ben Mears, but Donald Sutherland’s Straker may require a period of adjustment and Rutger Hauer’s Barlow is just odd. The intro and outro present a quandary.

Rating From Outer Space: C+

Rest in Pieces aka Descanse en piezas (1987)

Directed by “Joseph Braunstein” aka Jose Ramon Larraz
Jose Frade Producciones Cinematograficas aka “Calepas International INC.”

Terrible editing, acting that runs the gamut from A to B, a nonsensical plot about a life-after-death society and an inheritance, and the longest delayed appearance of a guaranteed nude scene in the history of cinema – oh, and credits that don’t even bother to name the cast, just the crew. Truly, this is a highlight of the 1980s video wasteland. Director Larraz (whose offerings Savage Lust and The House That Vanished were previously featured here) loves his mysterious deadly plots, but this production is so slapdash it plays more like a comedy. It can only be described as terribly entertaining, and I believe you probably know which word in that phrase should receive the emphasis. Now, why the hell haven’t I (yet) seen his British lesbian horror Vampyres? I gotta step up my game.

WHy Did I Watch This Movie?

See previous entry. You know, I’m fairly certain I could waste MORE of my precious time if I really tried … but here’s hoping I don’t decide to test that hypothesis.

 

Should You Watch This Movie?

Don’t you ever wonder how much of your precious time you could waste, should you really try?


Highlight and Low Point

The lead actress, Lorin Jean Vail, also had roles in an action movie (“Flex”) about a bodybuilder; an action movie whose description according to Wikipedia/IMDb is “A tough Arizona cop is teamed with a lesbian cop to catch a serial killer who is murdering police officers” (Arizona Heat); a movie called “The Patriot” (action! again); and played Bikini Girl #7 on a two-part episode of The Love Boat. Oh, and she portrayed herself in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.

Rating From Outer Space: D+

Dead Heat (1988)

Directed by Mark Goldblatt
Helpern/Meltzer

A movie starring Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo that somehow failed to set the box office ablaze – it grossed under $3.6 million – this action-horror about two cops who don’t let being killed in the line of duty stop them from avenging themselves on the criminal schemers plaguing L.A. with a rash of undead perps is, uh … yeah, YOU try ending that sentence, chief. This picture might’ve worked, but something about it never quite connects. A strictly B-level feeling prevails despite the simulacrum of a big-league budget. Like, Piscopo gets the meathead bro dialogue – go figure – but the patter is too ill-timed to generate buddy cop vibes. Meanwhile, the Williams character (“Roger Mortis,” ho ho) has so little charisma he could be sleepwalking – and that’s before he dies. Also, the extensive FX are a little too glitchy, etc., etc., and so forth. Instead of the cult classic its best future self could’ve become, it’s instead a nearly forgotten obscurity, as far as I can tell.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

This doesn’t answer the question, but I’m pretty sure I read a minor blurb about it around the time it came out.


Should You Watch This Movie?

Do the inner workings of Hollywoodland nag at you? Do you obsess over who gets the plum roles, and why? Are you driven to distraction trying to puzzle out how some projects ever got the nod? Buddy, have I got a story for you.

Highlight and Low Point

Obviously, they never figured out how to market this – and it’s hard to blame them, even if reasonably expecting that problem to have been considered beforehand. But generic cinematic police trappings aside, this film mainly evokes the previous year’s Dragnet and Real Men. Remember those?

(Exactly.)

Rating From Outer Space: B

Ghostbusters aka Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

Directed by Paul Feig
Village Roadshow Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Ghost corps*

*”A Columbia Pictures Company”

Check, this isn’t really a horror flick – but it isn’t really not at the very least a horror-comedy, either. You got your scary ghosts terrorizing the populace, undead, a demon-haunted world, the modern version of New York City … it qualifies. Like many a knee-jerk type, I figured this flick couldn’t be anything but terrible, but especially by “reboot” standards, I didn’t think it was all that bad. In fact, I’ll admit, it showed admirable restraint in a lot of areas – especially given the “standard” established by, say, Ghostbusters II. And I’ll allow, in fact, that it kinda acts as a mashup and reboot simultaneously, as elements of “II” intermingle herein with those of the original. I may still be unsure why exactly this was necessary, but it has to have been better than another go-round with the old folks would’ve been. But back to the well we go with the next installment. (Likely still with the same musical theme, too.)

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I wanted to see what Kate McKinnon would do with a feature role, and I was desperately avoiding schoolwork.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Well … nobody else did, hahaha. Not exactly gung-ho for the experience myself, I seriously doubt I could sit through it again. (It’s over two hours long, for one thing.)

Highlight and Low Point

Chris Hemsworth’s himbo secretary offers drollery, and Kristen Wiig is convincing enough as the … I want to say “straight man,” but that seems like a loaded term in the context of a female recasting, and “straight person” and “straight woman” seem to imply something else entirely. Anyway, Melissa McCarthy didn’t annoy the hell out of me, does that count?

Rating From Outer Space: C+

Frankenhooker (1990)

directed by frank henenlotter
ievins/henenlotter

Sometime in the ’80s, someone had the following idea for a movie: “So this guy, he’s, like, a science nerd, and his girlfriend gets chopped up by this souped-up remote-control lawnmower he rigs up for her dad, see, and then he invents supercrack and explodes a bunch of prostitutes and uses their body parts to, uh, make a new body for his dead girlfriend’s head, which he’s kept in this … estrogen-rich fluid.” When people lament the elements of life that “cancel culture” and its devotees are out to deny us, they’re forgetting that creations on the order of this one would be among those deprivations. And while we’d inarguably be poorer for lack of hybrids of films like Re-Animator and those released by Troma, the most commendable feature here is that it’s played more or less straight-faced, with a matter-of-fact tone, despite the increasingly ludicrous scriptwriting. (“There wasn’t enough left of you to fry an egg with” was a particular favorite line.) I dunno if exploitative sleaze is really that crucial a societal component.

why did i watch this movie?

It occurred to me that I’d somehow skipped this essential cinematic experience. I think I used to confuse it with other flicks, none of which seemed all that compelling.

should you watch this movie?

It’s fairly diverting, though it does seem pretty dated. Then again, it was proffered under the Shapiro Glickenhaus entertainment banner.

highlight and low point

If the pimp, “Zorro,” isn’t where the creators of Aqua Teen Hunger Force got the inspiration for “Carl,” well … that’s some sorta implication of a terrifying convergence. Main character Jeffrey’s plainspoken yet unhinged manner is oddly endearing, though you may have questions about his self-trepanation. Body horror – and perhaps gynophobia – ultimately reigns.

rating from outer space: B

Blood and Roses (1960)

directed by roger vadim
documento film/films ege

Let’s be honest here, this is a fairly half-hearted rendition of the “Carmilla” saga, with an added wrinkle or two that don’t do much to improve the tale being told – but also with a brisk, at times nearly impatient pacing that obscures or confuses other details. And after poncing its way through a mock-Victorian costume drama’s story arc, it abruptly veers into what I can only guess is an approximation of German Expressionist cinema for a truly bewildering and bemusing effect. Then the army blows up a castle and we’re teased with a silly coda that doesn’t bother to honestly follow the plot points. Even the sensuality expected from notorious Svengali wannabe Vadim is stilted. It doesn’t wear out its welcome, clocking in around a brief hour and a quarter, so there’s that.

why did i watch this movie?

Let’s be honest here – it’s because of this:

(Just four guys from somewheres in New Jersey.)

As an aside, the movie industry through various guises sure has churned out a massive clutch of vampire pictures. I sorta wanna trace the development thereof, but on the other hand …

Should you watch this movie?

A lot of other options exist if it’s the source material that interests you.

highlight and low point

The sequence during which Carmilla prefers to get drunk and listen to beat music instead of getting ready to attend the preposterous masquerade ball heralding her “cousin” Leopoldo’s upcoming nuptials is unexpectedly amusing. And of course the bizarre detour into artiness (if not artifice) will make you sit up and take notice. Even then, however, the production fails to capitalize fully on its own mythology. Some minor characters flesh out the running time without adding anything to the storyline.

rating from outer space: C−

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+

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

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−