The Ugly (1997)

written & directed by scott reynolds
essential productions/the new zealand film commission

What a deft accomplishment this New Zealand production is. With a setting straight out of the mundane – serial killer in asylum, being interviewed by psychiatrist – this nifty little low-budget film never settles for the industry standard, a directive it follows all the way through to the end. Piecing together fragments of the story as it proceeds – symbolically represented by events in the story itself – the question becomes how much of the killer’s version one is expected to believe. With its effects largely confined to jarring cuts and hazy flashes, and much of its overt violence glimpsed therein, an enigmatic aura is created and sustained. Though as the film moves past its climax it begins to rely a little too much on what may perhaps be manifestations of the mind of the madman, enough quirks and curveballs are presented along the way to avert predictability. The final scene is no exception. Interpretations may vary.

why did i watch this movie?

1990s. Saw some reviews or blurbs that said it was a little offbeat, and affecting.

should you watch this movie?

Aficionados of little-known horror flicks should definitely search for this one. Really, those who are more than casual fans of the genre would most likely appreciate it.

highlight and low point

The unique presentation of the material stands out, because – again – this is well-trodden territory, but it never quite feels that way while on view. The characterizations are interesting and not straight from central casting, as it were. The filmmakers also do a credible job despite very apparent fiscal constraints. On the downside, at times some deliberately outré details seem too intentional, and a few issues the script didn’t intend to raise might rankle a bit.

rating from outer space: A−

Splatter University (1984)

directed by richard w. Haines
richard w. haines productions/aquifilm co.

I guess I gotta admit that this objectively terrible movie is right in my wheelhouse, because although it’s completely, laughably awful, I can’t bring myself to pan it outright or consign it to the trash heap with some of the others I’ve slagged around here. But make no mistake – it’s not good, at all. The murder scenes are almost all exactly the same: character opens door, character sees knife brandished by unknown attacker, character gets stabbed in the abdomen, character dies. (The identity of the killer is easy to deduce, as well.) Many if not all of the characters are ridiculously exaggerated stereotypes, and attempts to portray “campus life” are in a similar vein. The only reason I imagine anyone would want to watch this movie is to remember a bygone era of moviemaking. The DIY ethos that the seventies made necessary in many areas of the arts was of considerable value … even if the artifacts it produced may not have been.

why did i watch this movie?

Hey, man …

should you watch this movie?

This picture was largely filmed in 1981, the credits at the end seem to read “1982,” and Troma eventually released it in 1984. Its entry on Horrorpedia includes the director’s explanation that to make it feature-length and “marketable,” a new beginning and ending were grafted onto it along with the abysmal attempts at wacky collegiate humor.

highlight and low point

As the credits rolled, I noticed the name “George Seminara” and thought, wait, the George Seminara? Yep, that one. The names of the Three Stooges are borrowed for character monikers, which amused me. Oh, and the lead role is played by “one of the most sought after female keynote speakers in the country.”

rating from outer space: d−

Night of the Scarecrow (1995)

directed by jeff burr
republic pictures/steve white entertainment

So, one of the actors in this picture was driving me nuts with his strained, nigh-unintelligible gibbering and his painfully restricted movements, and I just HAD to find out who he was … and it turned out to be Crispin Glover’s father, who purportedly is also an acting teacher. So I definitely learned something from this hokey, by-the-book bit of B-grade nonsense. Just about every cliché in the book is hauled out here – estranged daughter returns to small town! Her dad’s the mayor! She hooks up with the hot local guy! There’s trouble! And an ancient curse! Or something! – with the only novel touches being a few of the ways the, uh, demonic scarecrow kills or maims his victims. It’s entertaining, really, but man, is it ever generic. Which ceased to surprise me once I discovered that the director also was behind the camera for the equally uninspired Leatherface.

why did i watch this movie?

It sounded like a hell of an improvement over the previous strawman-themed picture I viewed. I thrilled to the prospect.

should you watch this movie?

It really isn’t the type of work one should watch on purpose, unless it involves nostalgia for the heartland fetish of decades long past. (Today’s politicized heartland fetish is different.)

highlight and low point

The evil possessed scarecrow is a kind of highlight, I guess, and the flashback scenes are endearingly slapdash. The ridiculous caricature of the extended family would have to be seen to be believed, and the backlot politics implicit in the details differentiating the women’s roles seemingly would’ve been intrigung. Overall, however, this one feels as though the script was churned out in little more time than it takes to watch the finished product.

rating from outer space: C−

Maniac Cop (1988)

directed by william lustig
shapiro-glickenhaus entertainment

One does not decide to watch a flick with a title like “Maniac Cop” thinking he or she is in for a deep, thought-provoking vehicle for highly skilled thespians featuring a trenchant, thinking-man’s script. And if one did, he or she would most likely be disappointed by this feature produced by the estimable Larry Cohen (and directed by the same guy behind the camera for Maniac, Lustig, a man clearly in need of a thesaurus). In all honesty, this feature is of a slightly higher quality than I’d expected, which probably does it a disfavor. With a sense of restraint belying its name, it never feels like anything more than what it is: a tossed-off cheapie thriller, made for off nights on off-brand cable channels. It’s dumb, occasionally amusing, and doesn’t care a whit about conveying any realism whatsoever – a picture drawn in such broad strokes it may as well involve fingerpaint. The ending is beyond banal.

why did i watch this movie?

After experiencing the previous couple Cohen productions, and having enjoyed my first exposure to Lustig’s work, and wondering why I’d never before bothered to watch this succinctly titled pic, it just seemed an obvious choice.

should you watch this movie?

Do you feel as though there’s a void in your life that can only be filled by the incisive philosophy that must buttress a filmic exploration entitled “Maniac Cop”?

highlight and low point

So, this production makes a point of focusing on Maniac Cop’s mutilated left hand, to identify the character and also reveal his … condition. In one such shot later in the film, the hand looks completely normal. Such utter disregard for continuity is always amusing. Tom Atkins plays Resolute Cop, Bruce Campbell plays Bruce Campbell Wrongfully Accused Patsy, and the script plays dead.


rating from outer space: C−

クロネズミ aka Kuronezumi aka Black Rat (2010)

directed by kenta fukasaku
avex management, inc./deiz

This Japanese production plays like it WANTS you to think it’s merely another anti-bullying flick, but it’s a bit too clever and a little too insidious for that to be the case. It is a revenge picture, which it doesn’t try to hide at all, but the nature of that revenge – and who’s enacting it, and for what reason – is a bit slipperier. Not even pretending to hide its sardonic intent, the film doesn’t overplay its more comic moments and the humor stays mainly black. Layers of pathos also are added as the underlying mystery takes almost the entirety of the film to be revealed. Although a bit brief at 76 minutes or so, and maybe a bit lightweight for focusing on drama amid schoolmates, this is an engaging and enjoyable offering … you know, for a bloody revenge picture full of torments.

why did i watch this movie?

I saw it mentioned … somewhere  … while I was looking for information about … something. Man, I have GOT to start taking notes. It sounded obscure enough, basically.

should you watch this movie?

Though it certainly has elements that detract from its overall effectiveness, it also has enough endearing facets to make a viewing worthwhile. (It’s also not that long, as mentioned above.)

highlight and low point

The cheerful sadism of the Rat is wonderfully juxtaposed with the tremulous responses of her victims, and it was hard not to be amused by the occasional subtitled notation of “Squeak.” More seriously, I thought the picture did a good job depicting what subtleties can create enmity or animosity amongst young adults. Hints of stock scenarios were unwelcome, and a bit of creative liberty may have been taken with the resolution of the affair.

rating from outer space: b

this blog approves of this nod to Ichiro

Scarecrows (1988)

directed by william wesley
effigy films

I would be inclined to call this picture “comically inept” except for the fact that nothing about it is funny – especially not the hour and a half or so I wasted watching it. Laborious, idiotic and pointless, this film has three characteristics in preponderance:

  1. voiceovers, to the point that it seems as though large swaths of the flick were shot without any dialogue whatsoever
  2. a repeated closeup* of one of the appellative dummies so prevalent it lends itself to disbelief
  3. blatantly obvious continuity problems for roughly the first third of its running time, which also return at the end

The latter involves an aircraft out of which hijackers are parachuting in pursuit of their heist money, for which they’ve been double-crossed. When the paratroopers land – allegedly this flick is known as “Paratroopers” on the German DVD market – they’re in pitch-dark night, but all shots of the airplane flying are in varying levels of daylight (early twilight at worst). As for the narration, one of the voices illuminates the turncoat’s thoughts, except that when he actually speaks, it’s … in a different, accented voice. As to the “action,” you may reasonably inquire why the scarecrows are killing people. Well might you wonder: no one knows. “I think this place is possessed by demonic demons,” one annoying character says to another. And they can’t be stopped! Except for when they can.

why did i watch this movie?

I have lousy decision-making skills, apparently.

should you watch this movie?

Bake a cake. Ride a bike. “Mail” a “letter.” Take a long walk off a short pier. Write poetry, even!

Highlight and low point

Paced as poorly as the rest of this venture, the credits last more than seven full minutes.

rating from outer space: f

*this one

Candyman (1992)

directed by bernard rose
propaganda films/polygram filmed entertainment

I was metaphorically looking at my watch during the second half of this formulaic slasher flick, reproaching myself for its selection, then once it was over I decided to read some opinions of it and – wow, you must be joking, internet. Personally, I found this picture to be wildly unacceptable, and not just because it implausibly concerns a murderous supernatural ex-slave bogeyman haunting Chicago’s projects. Sure, that’s improbable, too, but nothing else about this feature is any more reasonable. The ridiculously contrived (and likely inadmissible) police and legal procedures, the intrepid graduate students’ daring thesis research, the architectural lessons, the unthinking racism, the trite dialogue – this one’s got it all and then some! By which I might mean a Philip Glass score that we hear the same snippet of way too often. Oh, and vacuous voiceovers that aim for grandiosity only to land on ostentation. Plus, also, too, it’s not very frightening.

why did i watch this movie?

I’ll admit, I’m beginning to suspect there’s a reason I haven’t seen some of these ’90s offerings.

should you watch this movie?

You’d be better off watching any of the 440-plus episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. You know, I’ve read one of Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood” collections. Yeah, one.

highlight and low point

Certainly, when Virginia Madsen busts out of the institution where she’s been detained for a month with the help of her paranormal hook-handed buddy, I completely lost any semblance of respect for this absurdity. But it just kept going, exhausting my patience. The ending at least made me laugh, partially because it was so predictable, but also because they dragged it out so much. Did I like anything about this movie, I’m wondering.

Nothing’s coming to mind, sorry.

rating from outer space: D+