Island of the Fishmen aka L’isola degli uomini pesce (1979)

directed by sergio martino
dania film/medusa cinematografica

This contemplative, philosophical inquiry into the underpinnings of theories of evolution and the turmoil that can result when ruling classes oppose their implications ultimately wrests from its labors a few hard-won victories for what is best labeled “truth.” Hahaha, no – this is an Italian Island of Dr. Moreau crossed with an adventure serial, featuring some FX we’d later see improved by Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Coincidentally, it also features the pursuit of treasure from an ancient land.) Also featured is a voodoo cult, for some reason that either wasn’t provided or to which I wasn’t paying enough attention. Overall, it was a labor to get through this contrivance, but at times it almost approaches B-movie apotheosis. All it lacks is anything interesting or titillating or engaging or exciting!

why did i watch this movie?

I really don’t remember, so let’s presume it was the ridiculous title and Italian origin.

should you watch this movie?

Not unless you have to, which I’d wager is unlikely.

(Note: L’isola was also released for U.S. consumption under the titles “Something Waits in the Dark” and “Screamers,” both of which were altered to some considerable degree.)

highlight and low point

The stock volcano footage is gratifying, as are the obvious miniatures used for various shots such as that immediately above. Other FX are worthy of derision at best – but the “fishmen” themselves aren’t half bad. As is customary, the dubbed dialogue provides many great moments, such as this revelatory soliloquy:

Now I remember! He’s the geneticist who was condemned for his experiments … transplanting animal organs into human beings.

Oh, yeah, him. The above reminiscence leads to the equally appealing accusation, “You’re not a scientist! You’re a madman, an insane criminal!”  Gripe, gripe.

Rating from outer space: c−

The Stuff (1985)

written and directed by LARRY COHEN
LARCO PRODUCTIONS

Here – if you don’t know – is your basic Body Snatchers tale about a, um, parasitic dessert. Well, it isn’t really a dessert, but it’s being sold that way at the behest of a secret business cabal whose profit motive compels it to ignore that it turns people into … something or another, somehow. Unless (or until) it kills them. As it proceeds, this flick rather unexpectedly invokes Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, while also managing to be evocative of Stripes, which requires a certain deftness. It’s also got some kinda shadow government thing going on, a rogue former FBI agent whose motivation remained unclear to me, a public relations and/or advertising maven as an uninteresting love interest, often laughable FX, a child actor in a lead role, and a strangely laid-back demeanor on everyone’s behalf, considering that, you know, the existence of the human race is being threatened by deliciousness on behalf of Big Confection.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s a Larry Cohen picture, or hadn’t you noticed?

should you watch this movie?

It’s fun, and not notably demanding.

highlight and low point

Satirical moments abound here, and they’re often pretty sharp, but the detritus of the 1980s cultural milieu contributes plenty of its own zest. At times, scenes seem to have been completed well after being shot, with conspicuous use of green screens, superimposed effects, and the like. (Trying to induce terror via a whipped cream-like substance has its perils.) Occasional FX involving body deterioration is actually pretty effective, though, especially in a questionably timed demise during the film’s climax. Superlative is the scene featuring an exploding The Stuff establishment stationed between what resemble McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken eateries from a model train setup.

rating from outer space: b–

3 From Hell (2019)

written and directed by rob zombie
spookshow international/capital arts entertainment

In the rock ‘n’ roll world, bands sometimes hit a home run with their first release because it’s the culmination of everything they’ve spent their lives working toward, all their passion and labor and inspiration and insanity and their most finely honed materal in one definitive document. Then they’ve got, like, eight months to follow it up, and that’s where the magic often ends. That didn’t happen with Rob Zombie’s music career; it took White Zombie years to claw their way out of the NYC underground and hit it big in the early ’90s with La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, and he still enjoys a musical following. The template does describe his directorial career, however. House of 1000 Corpses, if not exactly original, seemed to presage the existence of a new horror auteur … but the bloom has faded from that rose. This sequel to the underwhelming Corpses sequel The Devil’s Rejects is a Tarantino-lite quasi-comedic misstep that more than ever showcases little save its writer’s underdeveloped vocabulary and lack of interesting ideas.

why did i watch this movie?

I greatly enjoyed Corpses, and liked Rejects the first time.

should you watch this movie?

It’s rather insipid.

highlight and low point

A moment or two in this picture works all right, but that’s about it. The setup is pretty dumb, the dialogue is godawful, it’s imitative, and it tiredly rehashes some stylistic elements from the last film, only stretched beyond parodic. Oh, and adds a new family member to provide the crucial deliverance. This chapter should’ve followed Tiny, last seen shortly before the ending of Rejects, and Dr. Satan, who’s still presumably out there somewhere, too.

rating from outer space: D−

These clowns liked it, apparently.
Photo from imdb (Tasia Wells)

Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)

written & directed by kevin s. Tenney
trimark pictures/Blue Rider Pictures

It was surprisingly difficult to access this cinematic … accomplishment, but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as the truly sublime can often be misunderstood in its own era and lost to the mists of time. Such a fate didn’t befall this assuredly pedestrian and laughably underwhelming piece of schlock, of course, but this humdinger strikes just about every single note on the Space Rats scale. It also encompasses every trick in the straight-to-video book, and even includes unbelievably cliché visuals one step removed from stock footage. Loads of laughs, most (all?) of which are completely unintentional, owe a great deal to the completely ridiculous depiction of various aspects of the legal world, and the various thespians competing to be the least convincing also abet the cause. Really, the hackneyed plot is one of the lesser worries here. You notice I didn’t say Richard even mention the “puppet” yet?

why did i watch this movie?

Weeeellll, I was looking for another thrilling thriller from the 1990s, and I wanna say I noticed the, uh, critical éclat for this flick, but maybe it just sounded dumb enough to suit my purposes – I really can’t recall.

should you watch this movie?

Oh, my questionable tastes definitely recommend that course of action.

highlight and low point

Golly, so much to choose from … I think I’m going to have to go with the various scenarios related to the suspicious suffering of our lead character’s significant other, however. The nanny’s absurd and inconsistent accent also deserves consideration, as do any number of undersold reaction shots. And one must not neglect the remarkable school bus scene. Soap‘s Fr. Timothy Flotsky (Sal Viscuso) allegedly has a bit part in this picture.

rating from outer space: C−

Bloodbath at the House of Death (1984)

directed by ray cameron
wildwood productions

This intermittently amusing English spoof may well have struck me funnier were I British, or approximately 10 years old. (I believe you call an affair such as this one a “broad farce.”) The production is rife with personalities and/or characters that did not resonate with me, and the less said about much of its sense of humour, the better. That being said, it had its good points, with Vincent Price’s absurdly campy centuries-old malevolent priest being a particular highlight. Although a few gags are repeated until maddening, and the overall story – once it eventually (almost) coheres – appears to belie its original aim, this film might hold dimwitted appeal to fans of … lowbrow British television. Not really my spot of tea.

why did i watch this movie?

By now you know I will watch anything with a title such as this.

should you watch this movie?

Anglophiles might enjoy placing the various performers in context of their larger careers, I guess.

highlight and low point

Vincent Price’s initial monologue is so delightfully overwrought it surpasses parody and becomes a true work of comic art; indeed, it is hilarious enough a moment that it sustained me throughout the rest of the film, which is largely lazy and witless. A few other vignettes – an S&M-tinged religious flashback and a scene involving phantom sex among them – are curious enough to add further impetus to the viewing urge, but even the more successful tropes feel halfhearted at times, and a handful of random contemporary allusions (among them Star Wars and E.T. ) either feel misguided, serve little purpose, or frankly are just kind of baffling. Oh, and the ending curries (sorry) more than a bit of a Rocky Horror vibe as well.

Rating from outer space: D+

“ha, ha, very droll”

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

written and directed by christopher landon
blumhouse productions

Okay, so, many/most of the same characters from the initial offering appear in this chapter because it reprises some key events, and increases the ramifications of the whole time warp thing. With a clever twist, of course. But in the tradition of sequels, it’s ramped up to service an unforeseen plot development, this time with dialogue noting storyline similarities to Back To the Future Part II. If that sounds dismal, you may be heartened to learn that it basically works despite those compromising factors, though I’m not sure it qualifies as “horror.” A little uneven, a little convoluted, and possibly a little too long, but the first half or so is good enough to make it worthwhile.

why did i watch this movie?

Its existence bade me rethink skipping the first one.

should you watch this movie?

As mentioned, it’s less frights, more Doc-n-Marty than the original.

highlight and low point

SO, this picture cost around 9 million USD to make, and has grossed at least 64 million USD to date … which considerably dampened studio interest (read: Jason Blum) in producing another. (Think about that the next time you watch some big-budget piece of absolute garbage from Hollywood.) Anyway, the biggest issue this flick has besides general superfluity is that it gives short shrift to what is a fairly important topic, that of the so-called “butterfly effect.” See, it becomes kind of a thorny problem to figure out why only certain details change when Tree is otherwise allegedly reliving the same day over and over again. That concept is introduced and then immediately forgotten for the rest of the film. Personally, I vote for a third part to be made – as a bleak existentialist drama. Take that, profitability.

rating from outer space: b−

Happy Death Day (2017)

directed by christopher landon
blumhouse productions

Yeah, I didn’t go into this flick expecting a lighthearted feel-good romcom, but that’s kinda what’s wrapped up somewhere in its gooey, nougat-filled center … along with a whole lotta other stuff. If that sounds unduly negative, I apologize, but this film really has a little bit of everything in it. And of course it’s self-aware enough to note explicitly that its storyline sounds a whole lot like that of Groundhog Day, saving me the trouble of having to point it out. (Personally, I didn’t make it through the latter picture. Maybe it needed some slasher scenes.) Social conscience, coming-of-age, inclusion, check check check. This is one proudly progressive kill-crazy fright flick, I tells ya. I am extremely discomfited to note that the sequel contains many of the same characters (some of whom should, finally, have been dispatched).

why did i watch this movie?

I had no intention of eyeballing this production until its sequel appeared and I noticed this one had gotten a lot of positive ink.

should you watch this movie?

The whole “Groundhog Day” aspect may nag at you a bit, but as I note, they (eventually) address that. Not your traditional horror, but worth it in my esteemed opinion.

highlight and low point

The humorous touches are well played, and the main character’s wavering demeanor deteriorates nicely as events continue to recur. Of course, I enjoyed greatly that the dorm wall we see most often proudly displays posters from not only They Live but Repo Man (and Back To The Future Part II, but just ignore that for the nonce). The mass-produced-mask-wearing killer isn’t the most original concept, but I’m not altogether sure it’s not intended for meta effect. Attention to detail is laudatory.

rating from outer space: B+