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−

Gutterballs (2008)

Written And Directed By Ryan nicholson
Plotdigger Films

Actually proud of how many times its script uses the F-word and its derivatives – the writing makes Rob Zombie screenplays seem eloquent – this deliberately tasteless and mordantly abusive curiosity also boasts some of the absolute worst acting you may ever experience. (Don’t bother wondering why the high-stakes showdown takes place in an all-but-deserted kegling center.) Though most of the gore is so over-the-top as to be ludicrous – along with the amounts of “blood” spilt – there are a scene or two of impressively sickening brutality, if that’s your (bowling) bag. Crass, sleazy, and pornographic (in a bordering-on-obscene legal sense), it’s kind of hard to defend this picture for any kind of “artistic merit,” but by the, uh, redemptive ending, a sort of humorous acceptance may surface. Either that, or by that point the proceedings may just have become too grim (or too stupid) to shock you any more. But there IS a sequel called “Balls Deep,” so at least things could probably get worse.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

I like bowling and independent horror productions, and I’ve got extremely questionable taste.


Should You Watch This Movie?

I really wish Nicholson could’ve found slightly more competent thespians for most of the cast, and that he’d have had a script editor to make the language less egregious.

Highlight and Low Point

The bowling pin gang rape scene is pretty bad, I guess, though at no time will you be worried whether it’s too realistic. The casual misogyny displayed throughout is a lot more grating, in my opinion. The antagonists in this story are truly despicable and unlikable, so I guess you can give the actors credit for accomplished something. Conjuring up the suffocation-death-by-69 scene also took some creativity.

Rating From Outer Space: C

Dead Girls (1990)

Directed by Dennis Devine
Bovine Productions

The type of movie that’s all about an obviously atrocious “band” – dreamt up by someone who clearly has no idea how things do or don’t work in the music industry – but doesn’t feature a single moment of the “band” performing or practicing (or even any of their alleged music), this substandard wannabe slasher flick features a confused mulligatawny of checklist concepts but little in the way of convincing thespians, believable script or acceptable motivations. I will give it credit for the very unexpected ending – especially coming as it does after nearly two hours of a story that really feels as though the author kept thinking, “okay, this sort of thing happens in horror movies,” only to continually revise his opus because it just didn’t feature enough broadly sketched stock roles. Absurdly unbelievable, by which I mean “unrealistic,” in whatever sense you care to interpret that.

Why Did I Watch This Movie?

Some nefarious individual posted literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of videotaped movies to the Internet Archive, almost none of which seemed to have registered culturally – like, say, this one. I culled all the horror and horror-adjacent titles, and this is the first one I chose to “enjoy.”

Should You Watch this Movie?

I mean, I suppose it could convince you that you could make a movie, too! Why not!


HIghlight and Low Point

Not only do the Dead Girls have ridiculous names – Nancy Napalm, Bertha Beirut, etc. – only one of them looks as though she might ever consider being in any sort of band at all. Their manager is an offensive caricature, and Asian, though how much those factors are related is theoretically debatable. The “religious” angle seemed farcical, though I’m no longer so sure these days.

Rating From Outer Space: D−

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−

Girls Nite Out aka The Scaremaker (1982)

directed by robert deubel
anthony n. gurvis/concepts unlimited

Jeez but the “girls” in this flick got some foul mouths on ’em, buddy. Although a copycat movie about a copycat killer – or IS it – WHOMEVER it may be – some surprisingly nuanced characterizations give this slasher ripoff a bit of its own personality, at least. The actors are all too old (of course), but I gotta say, those writing for ’em captured that peculiar tinge of collegiate life, where personas can get a little cloying and foibles are more apparent than their wielders probably ever dream. You will recognize elements exhibited in Graduation Day and replicated by Happy Death Day, and maybe even recollect The Prowler, if you’re that unlucky. Plus many more! All told, it’s passably entertaining, though.

why did i watch this movie?

Uh … yeah, I watched some of these pictures I’m now posting so long ago that I’m gonna hafta guess my motives in some cases. This one I think was because it’s an early-’80s slasher that was unknown
to me and the screenshots looked interesting,
maybe.

should you watch this movie?

If, like me, you remain fascinated by just how many different ways people could think of to make essentially the same movie, many during the exact same time period – and you’re also enamored of the
ongoing permutations of same – well,
possibly you already have.

highlight and low point

There’s a kind of lost-in-time aspect to this film’s setting, where you can kinda glimpse all manner of pop-culture references endemic to its era … but that don’t seem purposeful. By which I mean, as the ’70s was transforming into the ’80s, there was a lot of bleed between period-specific touchstones. Can these productions serve as literal depictions of life-as-lived? Or is it cinematic artifice?

rating from outer space: B−

Mute Witness (1995)

written and directed by anthony waller
a buchman/claus/soentgen/waller production

A suspense-driven exercise in communication problems, this picture is in Russian and English, and its title character spends a lot of its duration desperately trying to stay a step or two ahead of what appear to be some murderous thugs and maybe a criminal conspiracy. Ah, but see, the main players here are all working on a film set, and can you really trust what you’re seeing? Or whether people really are who they say they are? Et cetera. Mordantly funny at times, and a little better than it deserved to be. Maybe the language barrier(s) helped?

why did i watch this movie?

The time-honored setup of the observer of a crime who cannot for one reason or another convince anyone what she’s seen, along with a recurring trend often encountered here of late, ye olde picture-within-a-picture gimmick, I suppose.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a bit of an oddball take, really, but the blurbs aren’t lying – there are extended moments of high suspense throughout. Past a certain point, exactly what the bad guys are up to gets a little unnecessarily complicated, but that’s hardly the focus anyway.

highlight and low point

I’ll tell ya what’s NOT a highlight, trying to determine who’s responsible for these multi-studio, triple-nation co-productions. The differing methods of connection used within, however, are kinda fascinating. Marina Zudina’s portrayal of a deaf-mute  is pretty convincing, at least as far as I could tell. (I was not actually comparing it with the deaf actors in either Soul to Keep or A Quiet Place, or even those playing deaf-mutes in the dialogue-free Mercury, but was instead weighing it against Jennifer Jason Leigh’s blind character in Eyes of a Stranger. Don’t ask me why.)

rating from outer space: B+

Cut (2000)

directed by kimble rendall
beyond films/mushroom pictures/mbp/south australian film corporation

Another Australian horror comedy? Okay, sure, why not. Dispensing with overt laffs in favor of a general mood that isn’t all too serious, this filming-of-a-film-within-a-film is about the attempt to finish, uh, filming a film. Which was never finished. Said celluloid seems to be cursed, you see, as mayhem and terror ensues whenever anyone even tries screening the reels that remain of the initial endeavor. Despite that, some plucky young film students are determined to make a go of it, their professor’s objections notwithstanding. For a largely unheralded picture languishing in smaller-foreign-film obscurity, this flick is a pretty good time, even if saddled with a pretty ridiculous underlying concept. (To be fair, it’s generally internally consistent, which is always a plus in my book.) Molly Ringwald has a meta role as a onetime name actress who agrees to take a scream-queen part in a DIY indie production.

why did i watch this movie?

Probably because it’s Australian, a condition I usually find signifies a certain reliability. After making the selection, however, I held off for a while because the whole “horror film shoot or equivalent plagued by slasher or equivalent” isn’t the                                                                             most innovative idea.

should you watch this movie?

Ultimately, it doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table. If you’re looking for cinematic entertainment you don’t have to get too involved with, though, this’ll do.

highlight and low point

Really, the fact that the director was a founding member of the quirky rave-up combo (Le) Hoodoo Gurus leads this category. How random is that? The script could’ve worked harder to create misdirection about the killer’s identity, and it feels as though some opportunities were missed in observing the lineage of the fateful film.

rating from outer space: C+

Ladrones de tumbas aka Grave Robbers (1989)

directed by ruben galindo jr.
producciones torrente s.a.

A gleefully gory tale of demonic retribution (or something) that somehow keeps a straight face throughout its often surprisingly effective graveyard-campsite-and-church assault, this Mexican extravaganza has a little bit of everything you’d expect: lustful Inquisition monks, young people up to no good, stalwart lawmen, holy writ, and a whole lot of shrill screaming. Despite the obviously unreal nature of the proceedings – we are, after all, dealing with the undead, unless one considers that condition differently when Satanic possession is in play – only a few moments provoke disbelieving laughter, and even the evil rejuvenated monk’s makeup job works pretty well. And for all the hints of or nods to well-worn potboiler themes or tactics, well … I’m not sure where else you could reasonably expect to go with this material. Call it “classically themed” and move on.

 
why did i watch this movie?

My previous selection was known as “Grave Secrets,” and was released the same year as this one. Plus, a Mexican production felt like a good idea.

should you watch this movie?

Right from the start, it hits all the notes. You more or less know what you’re going to be getting, and you get it. Plus some nifty depictions of attacks from la hacha.

highlight and low point

There’s an interesting twist to the method of dealing with the supernatural fiend, which is especially welcome given the prevalence of so many other standard-issue tropes. Sociologically, you’d have to go with the quartet of young adults who pursue grave robbing as, like, their career choice, because how else are they supposed to earn a living? The occasional melding of diverse genre elements is also fun. A glaring continuity error provoked a literal double take on my part.

rating from outer space: B