Baba Yaga aka Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch aka The Devil Witch aka Kiss Me, Kill Me aka Black Magic (1973)

directed by corrado farina
14 luglio cinematografica s.r.l./simone allouche productions

Definitely the first film I’ve seen based on the erotically charged comics of Guido Crepax, this Italian tale of intrigue – and, you know, deadly puppets dressed in S&M gear that can manifest in fleshly human form – is, first and foremost, an examination of artful-nude studio photography vis-à-vis commercial filmmaking. And an attempted meditation on taste and the merits of artistic forms. Plus, of course, chic fashion, lots of chic fashion. Events never get very frightening, although the ending scenes contain some interesting and eerie moments, and the big reveal that sets them up isn’t without impact. The way things wrap up renders much of the story really kind of pointless, though because of the multiple erotic death dream sequences, at least you could toss “questions of conscience” into the list up above. Don’t know what to make of the Nazis or the other military imagery.

why did i watch this movie?

I mean, I saw the title “Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch.” I didn’t even know about the Crepax connection until the title cards showed.

should you watch this movie?

It’s amusing in a kitschy way, but apparently impossible to see in its intended form. (Footage that may or may not contribute to the film’s cohesion was excised without the director’s consent.) The version I watched contained some scenes inserted from work prints.

highlight and low point

There are dandy pseudophilosophical musings such as “If you don’t use the means that the system provides, what other possibilities have you got?” Mind you, the characters sharing this exchange are pretty far from revolutionary types. It’s also pretty moving when the pseudo heroine, Valentina, icily exclaims, “I couldn’t care less about … power and riches and your cosmic secrets!”

rating from outer space: C−

Mercy Black (2019)

written and directed by owen egerton

Oh, for crying out loud … here we go again with this bushwah. I try really hard not to sound like a broken record in these pages, which is sometimes a chore, but I may have no choice this time. What we have here is a spook film with a checklist, making sure it gives audiences exactly what they’ve already gotten so many times before – albeit one that for a brief, barely glimpsed moment has a fleeting chance to offer something different, to head somewhere that might be more than routine. But it doesn’t do that; at right about that same moment, it dives into the usual trough. Then it throws the ol’ SHOCKING reveal at you before copping out completely. Refusing to commit to any of its conceits, this Netflix offering exemplifies the perhaps apocryphal adage “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Dissatisfying at best.

why did i watch this movie?

Uh, yeah … I must have been asleep at the switch, because the description that accompanies this flick really doesn’t sound all that stimulating.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a blatant recasting of the 2014 “Slender Man” stabbing from Wisconsin, and it really isn’t worth your time.

highlight and low point

Maybe the most polite way I could put it is to posit that at no point in this parade of platitudinous pusillanimity do events rise above or plummet beneath a plateau. (That is, it may be tired and unimaginative throughout, but hey, at least it’s consistent.) Everything that could be worthwhile about this experience lies solely within your ability to imagine it, which, mirabile dictu, happens to align with one of this picture’s insufficiently addressed themes. It is also directed clumsily.

rating from outer space: D

The Lamp aka The Outing (1987)

directed by tom daley
written and produced by warren chaney
h.i.t. films/skouras pictures

Cheezy hack work, to be sure, but ultimately a witless good time, this preposterous time capsule of best-forgotten ’80s fashions and quick-buck hucksterism boasts a confused mythology, brutal edits, continuity issues, and a general lack of coherent purpose. What it does have are some ridiculous stock characters and flimsy FX, including the always welcome glowing eyes of the possessed. But in the great tradition of films in which terrible things happen in museums because of ancient relics – such as in, oh, say, The Relic – once the dubiously vengeful evil genie is conjured, it … well, actually, that happens a bunch of times, isn’t confined to the museum, only vaguely seems to involve the LAMP and, uh, see …

why did i watch this movie?

When I see a title mentioned more’n once on lists with names such as “Worst Movies Ever,” I usually gotta know more.

should you watch this movie?

Oh, absolutely. The heights of absurdity you will scale will reward you immensely.

highlight and low point

The fetching ensemble worn by our lead actress, Andra St. Ivanyi, as the “teenage” Alex Wallace, is itself enough of a marvel to demand viewership. (Don’t discount the “new wave” getup preferred by major human antagonist Mark Mitchell as privileged baddie Mike Daley, however.) For my money, it’s hard to top the scene in which one of the girls is taking a bath in the specimen room at the museum (don’t ask) and is set upon by what appear to be revivified cobras, although the computer sequence when our heroes search for their salvation is also top-notch. And the genie itself – sorry, “Jinn,” we need to remain historically accurate here – is incredible, in the truest sense.

rating from outer space: D+


Soul to Keep (2018)

directed by david allensworth and moniÈre
shady tree films/cineque pictures

“Not bad,” I thought to myself as this one finished. I mean, it wasn’t great, not by any means, don’t get me wrong – but it overcame a few significant faults to pass the time well enough. The repeatedly used FX was pretty lousy and didn’t play well, and the production felt like a low-budget friends-and-family affair, but the slowly developing storyline held some promise. Okay, sure, it involves a group of young people that find an EVIL BOOK in a MYSTERIOUS BASEMENT (festooned with blood!) on an OLD FARM, and so naturally decide to try to summon a demon – that might provoke an eyeroll, as may the telegraphed minor twist at the very end. Ah, but what to make of all those relationships, anyway? (Psst – that’s a clue.)

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t remember. Perhaps invoking the heady name of Beelzebub did the trick.

should you watch this movie?

How hypercritical are you? I’ve seen a lot of hot takes about this picture from people I can only presume don’t realize how hard it is to make one of these features.

highlight and low point

This picture probably coulda used clearer direction and a less derivative conclusion, yes, but again, I kinda grade on a curve ’round these parts, and a flick like this – made well beyond the fringes of the famous names and fancy catering of the celluloid industry – benefits greatly from that position. Things could be better, as a few problems insist: some of the acting isn’t up to snuff and eventually one gets the feeling the screenplay tried to stuff in a few too many twists ‘n’ turns. The mostly obnoxious college-age kids seem to be accurately portrayed, though.

rating from outer space: c−

The Mangler (1995)

directed by tobe hooper
distant horizon/filmex (pty) ltd/allied film productions

You’d THINK that a story about a bloodthirsty industrial laundry machine – Box Office Mojo: “A laundry-folding machine has been possessed by a demon, causing it to develop homicidal tendencies” – would be a premise stupid enough to satisfy most people, but Tobe Hooper apparently wasn’t most people, as it seems it wasn’t stupid enough for him. No, he must have decided – having cowritten the damn thing – that the presentation would have to be dumbed down in order to make an inexcusably brain-dead travesty of a feature. It’s a chore merely to make it past the first couple minutes, which I attest having had to try more than once. Everything looks abysmally fake, most of the acting is atrocious, the embellishments to the plotline of S. King’s originating short story are idiotic, and holy contrivance, Robert Englund’s character. He – it – they … stammering, reduced to, me. Bleah.

why did i watch this movie?

Besides my S. King obsessiveness, I had just finished Hooper’s Funhouse and fumbled my way into the realization that he directed (and cowrote) this crap.

should you watch this movie?

Plenty of terrible adaptations of S. King material are out there, just waiting for you. (Thinner, for example – I couldn’t make it through that one the first time I tried, either.)

highlight and low point

Look, the story itself (which you can read in the Night Shift collection) ends with the industrial speed-ironer wrenching itself from its moorings and stalking humanity, and I’ll grant that would be a difficult occurrence to film. That being said, the animated Mangler at this picture’s apogee is deliriously spurious. The filmic resemblance to portions of Graveyard Shift (story also from aforementioned source) do not lend this production any additional credibility.

rating from outer space: 0

Uncle Sam (1996)

directed by WILLIAM LUSTIG
gable productions

You kinda have to admire the chutzpah of a flick that doesn’t even bother to give any sort of reason how or why the titular dead soldier is wandering around killing “America’s” enemies – that’s just how it is. And, really, when you are as uninspired as this picture, why bother going that extra foot. When I stumbled across this title, I found myself wondering how I’d never previously heard of it. Having watched it, I now know: it’s terribly bland. Proceeding in a kind of somnolent daze, everything feels mistimed or disjointed, as if every scene was shot separately and then assembled in postproduction. (It’s doubtful a deeper, more complex story fell victim to budget constraints.) A couple of the killings are relatively imaginative, I guess. From the creative team behind the equally humdrum Maniac Cop.

why did i watch this movie?

The title. Plus, from all appearances it appeared to be a chintzy production with a paint-by-numbers concept. I didn’t even know Larry Cohen was involved until the credits rolled. (He “wrote” it.)

should you watch this movie?

Assuredly so, presuming you have a predilection for really bad acting and general inanity.

highlight and low point

My preferred moment was when it was clearly obvious that multiple Sams were lined up to produce the EERIE effect in a scene where the local teenage lout has gotten wildly off course from the Independence Day town festival sack race but for some reason continues hopping along in the sack instead of taking the damn thing off and, you know, walking or running or something. The prepubescent burn victim in the wheelchair who establishes some sorta psychic link with Undead Sam (also horribly charred) is a close second.

rating from outer space: D−

NOT Joe Biden

Fantasy Island (2020)

directed by jeff wadlow
columbia pictures/BLUMHOUSE productions

So I was doing my usual browsing for tripe when I came across this title, and thought to myself, “Well, that can’t possibly be – “

But it was, oh yes. An indefensible, uh, reimagining of the absurd escapist television drama of the late ’70s/early ’80s, which was right up there with its programming partner “The Love Boat” in terms of challenging intellectual fare. Of course, this rendition bears the Blumhouse stamp, as does the recent “Invisible Man,” which might provide a clue to the underpinnings of Jason Blum’s money-printing machine … he ain’t paying for new stories, that’s for sure. Especially here, a dumb idea that unfolds into a mishmash of stale, borrowed scenes – and let’s face it,  there couldn’t have been much hope for anything better given the source material.

Did I mention it’s a “prequel”? (!)

why did i watch this movie?

I had to make sure it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, ironically enough.

should you watch this movie?

You know, The Hunt is yet another Blumhouse-spawned rewrite that had its debut this year. I expected a little more from a varsity letterman.

highlight and low point

I suppose the acme of this production must be how shameless it is, or perhaps the fact that the cast largely seem to be taking their jobs seriously. (The working vacation in Fiji presumably helped.) As this waste of time finally staggered to a close – it for some reason is 109 minutes long – my real-time observation was, “This is insanely idiotic.” Then, having untangled the ins and outs of just who was responsible for the whole stupid mess, the heartwarming tearjerker ending revealed the origin story of “Tattoo.”

If you don’t know what that could possibly mean, thank ye gods.

rating from outer space: F