Altered Skin (2018)

written and directed by adnan ahmed
indiecan entertainment/federgreen entertainment/empirical films/md productions

The first film I’ve ever seen lensed in Karachi, Pakistan, this Canadian production tells a tale of a drug company withholding research on a potential cure for a rapidly spreading virus in order to maximize profits on its patent treatment, and also probably to enhance the corporation’s market value prior to its sale. So while the premise is hardly farfetched, the disease in question, which produces implacable cannibal hordes reminiscent of those in 28 Days Later (but much slower, of course), stretches the bounds of credulity a bit. Disclaimer: I am not a molecular biologist or immunologist or whatever, so hey, maybe quickly mutating viruses could have such an effect. Anyway, it’s all enmeshed in a conspiracy to prevent the Liberal Media from interfering with Big Pharma’s imprimatur. I may be putting my own spin on that, sorry.

why did i watch this movie?

“While caring for his ailing wife, an American engineer in Pakistan stumbles upon a deadly pharmaceutical conspiracy.”

should you watch this movie?

Though the zombie approximation of the mysterious illness isn’t the freshest concept, given the corporate American drug/healthcare/insurance complex, along with the questionable government administration or oversight of same, themes here may be of interest nonetheless.

highlight and low point

Authority barely exists in this pic’s verisimilitude, which I will accept as representative of actual reality. A telling quotation: “You know, if you could ever fix a problem by denying it ever existed, this place? Would be a fucking Utopia.” The unshakeable probity of the protagonist might be a touch overdone, but as a questionably allied henchman of the curative cartel accuses, he IS essentially acting out of selfish interest, so that’s really just a bit more food for thought.

rating from outer space: B+

Izbavitelj aka The Rat Savior aka Der Rattengott aka The Redeemer (1976)

directed by krsto papić
jadran film/croatia film

A political allegory from Croatia, then situated in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which won the equivalent of Best Picture in Portugal’s Fantasporto festival in 1982, and which has been noted for being reminiscent to modern viewers of both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and They Live. Set in a failed economy grasping for answered prayers, this is kind of a slow-developing picture, a fact more notable due to its relative brevity; the version I watched ran about 76 minutes, and I’ve seen evidence of versions ranging from two minutes longer to eight. Eventually, however, it reaches its peak, of what is essentially a terrible hopelessness. Based on a story by Russian writer Aleksandr Grin called something like “The Rat-Catcher,” this film ultimately hinges on a similar observation to the terrifying underlying theme of 1984: you can’t trust anybody, especially yourself.

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t have any idea what led me to this one … some rabbit (rat?) hole or other, presumably.

should you watch this movie?

As mentioned, it won’t take up too much of your time, and if you have any interest whatsoever in political themes – or, for that matter, historical ones – yeah, put it on your list.

highlight and low point

This production is lensed in such a way as to mute out its colors, which has the effect of making it appear much older than it actually is. Coupled with the subtitling and the stilted nature of much of the action, it comes across a lot like a silent movie at times, an impression only strengthened by the soundtrack. Locating some of the most important moments of the story in what is purportedly the abandoned “central bank” building is a masterful touch.

rating from outer space: B

Us (2019)

written, produced and directed by jordan peele
monkeypaw productions/perfect world pictures

First off, this film was not what I’d expected – which was basically another version of The Strangers and its ilk. It’s much weirder than that, however; Us is one strange flick. Unlike Peele’s first production, Get Out, this one kinda clutters the frame with signifier draped on allusion wrapped in metaphor, and it’s a bit of a muddle. (One could put almost any spin on what it “means” and find a way to support the claim.) It’s also too often funny to be as scary as it wants to be, though at multiple times it conveys a great unease vividly laced with desperation. Laden with references to a smattering of other movies, though, this picture is yet another example of that apparently inescapable factor of contemporary culture. Guess we just can’t not do that any more, even with so much original creative spark seemingly on hand. For me personally, not being much of a cinephile, yawn, whatever.

why did i watch this movie?

Get Out was not only terrific, but thought-provoking, a rare combination. So although the early media campaign for this one didn’t make it appear to be anything out of the ordinary, I figured I’d be viewing it at some point.

should you watch this movie?

The running time is a very long ≈ two hours. The ending particularly drags.

highlight and low point

Despite its being a little unwieldy and bearing a few untidy loose ends, there’s a lot to like here. The initial appearance of the doppelgängers is both amusing and frightening, which isn’t the easiest trick to pull off, and a sudden revelation that there’s a lot more to the story than has theretofore been presented is powerful yet understated.

rating from outer space: B+

The Terror Within (1989)

directed by thierry notz
CONCORDE

The kind of picture wherein a lot of the action takes place inside massive “air vents,” this absolutely marvelous archetypal B movie was produced by none other than Roger Corman, and it gloriously suggests any number of ’50s and ’60s drive-in wonders. From the minimal casting to the plastic-fantastic sets, this SF horror pic pulls out all the stops. You got your overly obvious dialogue, you got your laughable rubber creature suit, you got your broadly drawn characters, you got your … dog. The tale of mankind’s last few (?) survivors after an unspecified disaster, besieged by mutants apparently spawned by … well, never mind making any sense of that, why bother. Terrific fun, couldn’t ask for anything more.

why did i watch this movie?

This has to have been a result of looking for more George Kennedy vehicles, I’d imagine. You may have noticed I’m a big fan of those. (Someday, you’ll understand.)

should you watch this movie?

Not if you dislike having a good time.

highlight and low point

Virtually everything about the set design is simply magnificent. The research station or whatever it is has a staff of six, yet the elevators are boldly designated with signage. They’re monitoring life outside and doing complicated experiments inside, yet when they need to reproduce sound, they have to resort to using a reel-to-reel recorder. They have banks of complicated computer equipment, but their video feed and lights constantly malfunction. And they’ve got a bitchin’ logo for some reason. Also, this is the only SF horror pic I can think of that might inspire abortion debates, as it’s the only one I can think of offhand that features a self-induced rejection of an alien-hybrid fetus. (Trust me, that’s not a spoiler.)

rating from outer space: “B” (of course)

Uninvited (1988)

“Written, produced, & directed by Greydon clark”
copyright © greydon clark productions, inc.
heritage entertainment

About three-quarters of the way through this inestimable SF/horror hybrid it begins to seem it was forced into its final form via a harried editing process, because scenes come and go abruptly and transitions cease to matter. It’s also around this time that one begins to notice certain amusing facets of the production, such as the repetitious establishing shots and the obvious discrepancies between the dimensions of the yacht we are to understand the characters are aboard and those of the ship we actually see them aboard. And of course, there are the many, many, many images of the cat. The terrifying, deadly, seemingly ordinary tabby cat. Now, budgetary constraints obviously played some role in this tomfoolery, but that can’t explain everything. Whatever the reasons, this hokey straight-to-video picture could have been a whole lot more satisfying. It just never goes quite far enough in any particular direction – much like the malfunctioning vessel that becomes a virtual … DEATH SHIP.

why did i watch this movie?

Without Warning was interesting enough, but I don’t think it led me here. There’s always the George Kennedy connection.

should you watch this movie?

I’d like to say it’s good for laffs, but its unintentional humor can’t overcome the sense of tedium.

highlight and low point

The overacted yet undersold deaths are priceless – as are the pics of the toy boat representing the seafaring watercraft – but I cannot overemphasize how many scenes in this film feature an ordinary cat doing ordinary cat things. Now, I happen to love the furry little demons the human race unwisely invited to share their homes, but such cinematography is incongruous with the desire to create an atmosphere of ill portent.

rating from outer space: D+

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−

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−