Pet Sematary (2019)

directed by kevin KÖlsch & Dennis widmyer
di bonaventura pictures

To its credit, here are some things this unbidden remake of an unloved movie doesn’t contain:

Song-and-dance routines
Postmodernism
Dragons
Folksy narration
Superheroes
A blaring “modern rock” soundtrack
Auto-Tune

That it also lacks any explanation for its existence is unimportant, since isn’t that the linchpin of the plot? The … CEMETERY PLOT? (creepy laugh)

Seriously, I have no idea why someone filmed “STEPHEN KING’S TERRIFYING NOVEL” again or why they made some of the choices they made in revising key elements (and some trivial ones as well, which is just odd). The exposition is rushed, the backstory truncated, and the voiceovers ridiculous. But credit where it’s due: once the dead little girl shows up, she’s really spooky. Altogether, however, it kinda feels as though someone had the idea for the final quarter of this flick, only to realize they’d have to adapt it to the existing framework. Is it “better” than the first go-round, probably. Is that any sort of quality claim, well …

No.

why did i watch this movie?

I had no intention of seeing this, but its schlock-ridden FINAL TRAILER defeated me. (Had I known its helmsmen also made 2014’s Starry Eyes, I woulda been interested much earlier. And greatly disappointed.)

should you watch this movie?

Hundreds of movies have yet to be made from heretofore unfilmed S. King output, and pix made from presumably original stories also abound.

highlight and low point

This flick is almost completely worthless until the dead little girl comes home. Then it’s not that bad, especially when she hints at an unimagined diabolical secret. The last scene is also pretty twisted. But extraneous distractions abound, some amateur touches provoke laughter instead of frisson, and the penultimate scene is largely shameful.

rating from outer space: D+

The Hole in the Ground (2019)

directed by lee cronin
bankside films/savage productions/head gear films/wrong men north/bord scannÁn na hÉireann (irish film board)

Seeming like folklore – almost literally an old wives’ tale – this slowly building story of maternal fear couldn’t help but remind me of 2014’s The Babadook, although the threat here apparently arises more from within than from a mythological creature. Truth be told, it also evoked vague thoughts of multiple other flicks, though I think that may be mainly because it works upon classical sources for our deepest horrors. Or something. Although the picture’s pretty engrossing, it does have holes almost as big as the one responsible for the title, even if some of them may not occur to you until after the fact. Largely psychological and atmospheric, it ultimately lacks for quite enough heft. Building a mystery is all well and good, but leaving some paths to trail off completely feels like misdirection, and results in the film’s resolution feeling unfounded.

why did i watch this movie?

This was the other film that made the cut after my perusal of the questionable streaming site mentioned in my review of 30 Miles From Nowhere. It’s another Irish production, which swayed me.

should you watch this movie?

It’s not as though it’s a total waste of time, but it needed a little bit more to recommend it, and it might feel kind of derivative, to boot.

highlight and low point

The extremely low-key manner in which Seána Kerslake’s Sarah deduces the truth about her son almost escaped my attention entirely, which makes it rather magnificently understated. A little too much goes unexplored or undeveloped, though, and when Sarah decides to get to the bottom of things – perhaps a little too literally – the pic reaches a nadir – perhaps a little too literally – from which it barely recovers.

rating from outer space: c−

 

30 Miles From Nowhere (2018)

directed by caitlin koller
film camp productions

I’ll admit I’m biased, but good writing has saved many a movie, and if you can add good acting on top of that, well, then you can get a lot of mileage out of a well-worn scenario. This quirky, offbeat indie comedy thriller is really more about its ensemble cast than its afterthought plot or minimal scares. Which is not to say it doesn’t keep one in suspense; it does, albeit mildly, but what this movie does better than anything else is establish one long setup for a sucker punch. Slight though the overall effect of this picture may be, it will impress you with its panache. A worthy diversion whenever you need a break from whatever the hell TV programming you watch.

why did i watch this movie?

I rather randomly wound up on some dubious streaming site and this title was hanging out there and I looked at the description and thought what the hey. An insight into my procedures: Six or seven flicks in toto were selected initially; only this and one other survived.

should you watch this movie?

I really wanna say this is a horror picture for the NPR crowd, without being able to define that very strictly, and not wanting to make this some sorta cultural football. But it concerns research psychologists, for crying out loud.

highlight and low point

Everyone in this film apparently is some stripe of known television personality, but as I pretty much only watch horror flicks and baseball, I did not recognize any of them. As hinted above, I greatly enjoyed the snappy dialogue writing, which managed the tricky feat of being highly literate without sounding forced or overly theatrical. And the performances were excellent across the board.

rating from outer space: B+

insignia found on film’s website

 

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

directed by jeff burr
republic pictures/steve white entertainment

So, one of the actors in this picture was driving me nuts with his strained, nigh-unintelligible gibbering and his painfully restricted movements, and I just HAD to find out who he was … and it turned out to be Crispin Glover’s father, who purportedly is also an acting teacher. So I definitely learned something from this hokey, by-the-book bit of B-grade nonsense. Just about every cliché in the book is hauled out here – estranged daughter returns to small town! Her dad’s the mayor! She hooks up with the hot local guy! There’s trouble! And an ancient curse! Or something! – with the only novel touches being a few of the ways the, uh, demonic scarecrow kills or maims his victims. It’s entertaining, really, but man, is it ever generic. Which ceased to surprise me once I discovered that the director also was behind the camera for the equally uninspired Leatherface.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like a hell of an improvement over the previous strawman-themed picture I viewed. I thrilled to the prospect.

should you watch this movie?

It really isn’t the type of work one should watch on purpose, unless it involves nostalgia for the heartland fetish of decades long past. (Today’s politicized heartland fetish is different.)

highlight and low point

The evil possessed scarecrow is a kind of highlight, I guess, and the flashback scenes are endearingly slapdash. The ridiculous caricature of the extended family would have to be seen to be believed, and the backlot politics implicit in the details differentiating the women’s roles seemingly would’ve been intrigung. Overall, however, this one feels as though the script was churned out in little more time than it takes to watch the finished product.

rating from outer space: C−

Maniac Cop (1988)

directed by william lustig
shapiro-glickenhaus entertainment

One does not decide to watch a flick with a title like “Maniac Cop” thinking he or she is in for a deep, thought-provoking vehicle for highly skilled thespians featuring a trenchant, thinking-man’s script. And if one did, he or she would most likely be disappointed by this feature produced by the estimable Larry Cohen (and directed by the same guy behind the camera for Maniac, Lustig, a man clearly in need of a thesaurus). In all honesty, this feature is of a slightly higher quality than I’d expected, which probably does it a disfavor. With a sense of restraint belying its name, it never feels like anything more than what it is: a tossed-off cheapie thriller, made for off nights on off-brand cable channels. It’s dumb, occasionally amusing, and doesn’t care a whit about conveying any realism whatsoever – a picture drawn in such broad strokes it may as well involve fingerpaint. The ending is beyond banal.

why did i watch this movie?

After experiencing the previous couple Cohen productions, and having enjoyed my first exposure to Lustig’s work, and wondering why I’d never before bothered to watch this succinctly titled pic, it just seemed an obvious choice.

should you watch this movie?

Do you feel as though there’s a void in your life that can only be filled by the incisive philosophy that must buttress a filmic exploration entitled “Maniac Cop”?

highlight and low point

So, this production makes a point of focusing on Maniac Cop’s mutilated left hand, to identify the character and also reveal his … condition. In one such shot later in the film, the hand looks completely normal. Such utter disregard for continuity is always amusing. Tom Atkins plays Resolute Cop, Bruce Campbell plays Bruce Campbell Wrongfully Accused Patsy, and the script plays dead.


rating from outer space: C−

Cronos (1993)

written and directed by guillermo del toro
producciones iguana/ventana films/consejo nacional para la cultura y las artes/instituto mexicano de cinematografÍa/universidad de guadalajara/calidad cinematogrÁfica

Del Toro’s more widely known productions often invoke the term “fantasy,” but as I usually avoid anything with that description, it’s a good thing for me that enough macabre elements comprise this film for it to pass muster. Essentially a tale of the attempt to subvert the natural order of things, its tone throughout matches most of its set pieces for darkness. Structured not unlike a classical tragedy, both its vision and theme are somewhat morbid and fatalistic. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at the outset, but overall it proved to be a captivating work. Alchemy, an antiquarian, magical Renaissance artifacts, vampirism, resurrection (of a character named Jesus, of course), attempts to cheat death, death, murder, attempted murder … and a little girl named “Aurora.” Which certainly couldn’t be symbolism.

why did i watch this movie?

I constructed a long list of ’90s movies to watch, and made sure to include this one because it was Del Toro’s debut feature.

should you watch this movie?

A wealthy dying man seeks a mystical device to prolong his existence, but someone else has already succumbed to its seductive powers. Struggles ensue. 94 minutes. Subtitled.

highlight and low point

It highly amused me that this flick contained elements or motifs of the only other Del Toro works I’d seen: insects and the insectile (1997’s Mimic), and Ron Perlman (2004’s Hellboy, which terrestrial television often used to show in the wee hours during a period when I was both chronically underemployed and overly intoxicated). More attention could have been paid to the history of the mysterious device, and how one of the parties got hold of its instruction manual. Indeed, character development is not this picture’s strength.

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+