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−

The Retreat (2021)

directed by pat mills
Alyson Richards Productions/Clique Pictures

I don’t wanna sound like a straight normal hetero guy, but if this picture didn’t concern a lesbian couple trying to avoid being killed by gay-hating militaristic dark-web content providers, it wouldn’t warrant much mention as anything other than just another genre exercise. As it is, however, it kinda reminded me of The Hills Run Red, at least for the filmed killings. Anyway, I guess you can’t dismiss the zeitgeist, so despite its fairly hackneyed presentation, it is going to attract some attention for what could be read as its sociopolitical statements. Which may be fair enough, but doesn’t ever go far enough, either. For the record, the most hateful character is a rural married woman.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Media commentary about it made the usual claims about it being some kinda subversion of the paradigm, or a similar combo of buzzwords.

Should You Watch This Movie?

Maybe you’d like to contemplate how tepidly this supposedly brash experiment approaches its homosexual themes. You can start with the fact that it focuses on a lesbian couple, of course, instead of two guys, and move right on into observing how remarkably dispassionate their relationship is. (The PR claims that relationship is “rocky,” but c’mon.)

Highlight and Low Point

Okay, seriously, there’s a scene in this flick – and this would constitute a SPOILER ALERT, were it not for what I’m about to “reveal” – where our intrepid heroine has to escape her dastardly bonds and does so by … can you guess? Huh? Can ya? DING DING DING! Yes! She breaks her own thumb so she can slide her hand free! WOW! Who could possibly have seen that coming!

Attn. directors: Please stop putting this scene in your movies.

Rating From Outer Space: C

Scream Bloody Murder aka Matthew aka The Captive Female (1972)

Produced & Directed by Marc B. Ray
First American Films/Alan Roberts Productions/University Film Company

Honestly, this might be one of the more demented offerings I’ve yet watched. Here’s a synopsis: A young boy kills his father with a tractor, losing a hand in the process. When he’s 18 he’s released from the loony bin and kills his brand-new stepfather with an axe, then accidentally kills his mom, then basically kills everyone else he comes across for the rest of the film except for the hooker he decides to kidnap BECAUSE HE WANTS TO BE FRIENDS. Rampant moments of complete insanity dominate, highlighted by “psychedelic” hallucinatory passages and wacked-out soundscaping. To be honest, it gets pretty harrowing, even as it’s more than ludicrous more often than not. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “good” movie, but when our confused young man lashes out and slashes with his prosthetic hook hand, it’s … okay, I already used the word “ludicrous.”


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I found this flick whilst researching the previous entry, due to the shared title.


Should You Watch This Movie?

“See what I do for you? I get groceries and clothes and art stuff, and kill people, and do you appreciate it? NO.”


Highlight and Low Point

So, the hooker is a painter in her spare time, see, and Matthew is convinced that an easel is the key to her satisfaction with his completely normal plan to hold her hostage in the mansion he usurped from its elderly owner that he killed. As hung up as he is about sex in general – mind you, we have no idea “why,” since the picture begins with the inchoate Oedipal act – he’s REALLY fixated on the easel he procures. Angus Scrimm shows up at one point.

Rating From Outer Space: B−

Curse of the Devil aka El retorno de Walpurgis (1973)

Directed By Charles Aured
Lotus Films/Scorpion Productions

Golly, I wouldn’t have expected this ridiculous piece of trash could get even better, but it turns out it’s the SEVENTH in a series – and according to Wikipedia, “This film ignored the events in all of the earlier films.” Same actor as the werewolf, though! (Paul Naschy.) And what was the next installment? You guessed right – Night of the Howling Beast! I knew I recognized la bestia. To be completely honest, I’m not even sure what the most farcical part of this production is, but all of a sudden all of the villagers simultaneously decide it must be a locally roaming werewolf that’s responsible for a string of gruesome crimes, so that might have to be considered. There are 12 of these! TWELVE. The title that preceded this one in the series was Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo. I have no words.

 

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

See, it’s called “Curse of the Devil” – this release is, anyway – and this is the IMDb description: “A man whose ancestors executed a witch is turned into a werewolf by modern-day descendants of the executed witch.”

Should You Watch This Movie?

See, the thing is, I don’t even particularly care for werewolf pictures. Even for a dubious genre such as horror, the theme stretches the bounds of credulity for me.

Highlight and Low Point

This is another of several recently watched flicks whose English dubbing and subtitles don’t match at all, leading me to wonder which one deviates more from the original scripting. (It’s extra fun when there’s more than one English subtitle track, and they’re different!) The story here starts out with some ambition but goes nowhere in particular, and the genesis of the curse doesn’t make much sense.

Rating From Outer Space: D

I Blame Society (2020)

Directed by Gillian Wallace Horvat
Nowhere

While I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess there may be a lot of people who wouldn’t find this picture very funny. Maybe those folks would misconstrue the satirical nature of the meta commentary, remarked upon with such satisfaction by those living and working within its filmmaking milieu. It’s also probable that some people just don’t find murder to have much comedic value. If your taste runs toward extremely dark humor, however, and you’ve ever spent any time dallying with the art world, this should strike the correct nerve. A mockumentary of sorts that translates its anger into absurdities, the narrative follows Horvat as she embarks on a very special personal project. At first, her tentativeness and some awkward situations she establishes may evoke thoughts of Creep, but eventually this production abandons what little restraint it has demonstrated, perhaps to emphasize the lunacy lurking in its heart. Does it lose a bit of verisimilitude with this shift? Possibly, but there’s too much fun to be had for that to matter much.


Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I’ve used this exact phrase for years in attempts at arch commentary.


Should You Watch This Movie?

It’s one of the most enjoyable pictures I’ve seen since I started this blög, which as of this post has 335 reviews. (There are an additional 117 or so horror flix that have yet to be honored here, too.)

Highlight and Low Point

The filmmaker meets with some production bros twice along the way, and for anyone oblivious to her thesis, these scenes hammer it home. (The second session includes an aptly revealing indictment.) The various references to her
omnipresent cameras are also amply rewarding.

Rating From Outer Space: A

Freaky (2020)

directed by CHRISTOPHER LANDON
Blumhouse Productions/Divide/conquer

I will freely admit – I have to – that I’m a sucker for this exact sort of flick, to the extent that I knew I was going to like it as soon as I read a review of it. And I put off watching it for some reason anyway. So, yeah, here’s another Blumhouse comedic horror romp, and boy is it ever of the moment. A body-switching gender-defying mockup slasher spoof of “Freaky Friday” and its ilk, it even manages to worm a little bit more tension out of some of the hoariest of the genre’s tropes. Men’s rights advocates probably won’t like it much, and who the hell knows whether the newly minted Science-trusters will denounce it while busily insisting they’re defending the natural rights of biological women. Why, there could be ammo for the cancel-culture-cancellers, too! Now THAT’s inclusive!

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Man, I already done TOLD ya! I’m like a moth around a light bulb for this kinda thing.

Should You Watch This Movie?

I will go ahead and presume it will not suit everybody’s taste. Hell, it could even seem like outright trolling in some regards, I suppose. But here’s the thing: Times change. Seasons change. But this movie is bloody entertaining. (Literally, of course.)

Highlight and Low Point

Vince Vaughn is tremendous in this picture. Which may be surprising to you, should you not be aware that Vince Vaughn is still a guy who acts ‘n’ such. Hey, it caught me a little bit unawares. And see above comments about aggressive agenda-pushing. I mean, look, that’s a big part of what’s behind the whole premise here, but … certain people take their cues from certain people they know, if you catch my drift.

Rating From Outer Space: A−

The Majorettes (1987)

Directed by Bill Hinzman
Major Films/Ross & Hinzman

Oh, MAN, there is so, so much wrong in this picture that it’s instantly vaulted into a vaunted echelon of that peculiar cinematic realm endemic to the underfunded independent horror picture. I mean, holy cow, John Russo – whose name I immediately recognized, attached as it was to the splendiferous delights of Midnight – was almost 50 when he wrote this screenplay, but that incidental fact doesn’t come near to excusing how incredibly out-of-touch he was with certain aspects of what he apparently thought was “youth culture.” But let’s ignore that for the nonce. After all, there’s the spurious dialogue to command our focus! Plus, as has been noted elsewhere, a bizarre tonal shift (think “Rambo”!) occurs at a certain point. I might tip my hat to the iconoclastic ending, I suppose – were it not distressingly pedophiliac.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I don’t know – I mean, I almost forgot I watched and wrote a “review” of it – but I was just thinking today about how a certain stripe of ’80s flicks are like comfort food … the lasting effects of which, of course, often range from                                                                              forgettable to unpleasant.

Should You Watch This Movie?

This one’s more akin to eats you decided to pick up at a gas station. They may be bad for you, but at least they don’t taste good!

highlight and low point

The depiction of the “high school” students is beyond compare. The “majorettes” themselves are a spectacle. I don’t think there’s a single character in this movie that isn’t a one-note self-parody, but I’m not about to go back and check. Everything in this absurd spectacle, with the possible exception of the buildings and trees and such, strains credulity to such an extent it astonishes.

rating from outer space: D

The Night Flier aka Stephen King’s The Night Flier (1997)

directed by Mark Pavia
New Amsterdam Entertainment™ Incorporated/Stardust International Ltd./Medusa Film S.p.A

Based on an S. King short story I hadn’t read – it’s in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, the titles of which mainly don’t ring a bell, with the exception of “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” which I recall detesting – this archetypal B movie was financed by European concerns and tells a tale of Richard Dees and the tabloid “Inside View,” both names I will go ahead and presume you recall from The Dead Zone, by which I mean the novel, not the dreadful film adaptation directed by David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken. The titular “flier” – and why the heck isn’t it “flyer,” anyway? – is a vampire airman going by the meta name “Dwight Renfield.” That’s it, that’s the story. With oh-so-subtle parallels drawn to the journalistic pursuit of. Some form of the twist ending you will likely foresee.

why did i watch this movie?

I wasn’t feeling the two pictures that formerly had been slated, possibly as a result of having just watched all nine “Episodes” of the Skywalker Saga triple trilogy, but I WAS in the mood for something based on the timeless works of S. King. The Under the Dome series wasn’t doing it for me and I had yet to discover the three seasons of Mr. Mercedes, so I went with this.


should you watch this movie?

If you’re an I’m-fine-sticking-with-basic-cable-and-terrestrial-channels type, go for it.

highlight and low point

The climactic scenes are pretty gratifying, especially given how ridiculous the vampire looks when finally we see its face. Some subsequent action even manages to atone for that. The rest is pretty standard low-budget middle-of-the-road mild
horror. It’s more of a character study, really …
which, you know, S. King.

rating from outer space: b−

Peeping Tom (1960)

directed by michael powell
a michael powell production

Dammit, I accidentally watched a real, actual movie again. And quite a controversial one, at that … it ruined its director’s career, only to later be championed by the next wave of adversarial auteurs. Not unlike its contemporary Psycho in some ways, this picture seems, through a contemporary lens (yes), almost to revel in its very Britishness at the dawn of what would prove to be a challenging new decade. Predicated on camerawork, this is also the type of production of which overly serious theorists must debate representations of the audience’s gaze, etc. For a bonus, it may remind some of John Watson’s notorious “Little Albert” experiment, especially if it was covered in a class they were taking when they watched it. That’s just wild conjecture, mind. (You know, they say it’s never too late to go back to school, but I’m not so sure about that.) One could probably do a deep dive into some of the intertwined psychologies contained herein, and someone probably has.


why did i watch this movie?

Sorry, I can’t help ya there … I fear I’m drawing a complete blank.

 
should you watch this movie?

It’s pretty ponderous and lends itself a little too easily to lampooning in certain regards, especially Karlheinz (“Carl Boehm”) Böhm’s lugubrious lead. And it’s definitely too theatrical in its blocking and many of its characterizations. (It will not stun you with its realism.) The enigma is nicely layered, however, and revealed with fine pacing.

highlight and low point

The depiction of the spirited young lady, plunging ahead without guile but also not without a certain heedlessness, her self-direction verging on the presumptuous, is pretty spot-on. The intricacies of the various familial tanglings would make for quite a diagram.

Rating from outer space: B

Shock ‘Em Dead (1991)

directed by mark freed
noma productions

It wasn’t until I’d finished this redoubtable inanity that it occurred to me that “1991” seemed to be an inaccurate release date. Surely, I thought, it must’ve been filmed years earlier and languished until it found a video-shelf release date. Allegedly, however, it was committed to celluloid in 1990. Well, these folks must have been living in a wormhole or something, because it sure looks and sounds a lot more like 1988 or so. Splitting hairs, you might think – but wait until you see the fright wig “Angel” sports. “Angel,” of course, for some reason wants to join a horrible band with a singer wearing Richard Simmons’ castoff outfits, so he makes a deal with a voodoo queen (!) to become a demonic guitar hero or some such. Traci Lords plays the non-bimbo in the cast, and all you readers of “Hit Parader” from ye olden daze will be delighted to know that “Michael Angelo” is the stunt stand-in for all the SHREDDING. This is purportedly the last role on the long downslope of the career of blogfriend Aldo Ray.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded stupid as hell. But how, I wondered, would it match up with, say, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare or Black Roses, or even Rocktober Blood? And do I need a new hobby, or what?


should you watch this movie?

Somehow, someway, it’s actually watchable – acceptable, even. Maybe it’s even more tongue-in-cheek than it seems. Maybe it’s that self-aware. The songs, unfortunately (?), don’t actually approximate the hair era’s so-called “metal.”

highlight and low point

The production values basically don’t exist at all, though we are treated to green glowing eyes at times of … uh, manifestation. The band members cannot act, at all. The period decorations are choice.

rating from outer space: B+