Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

written and directed by Michael Dougherty
bad hat harry productions/legendary pictures

Taking a cue from what seemed a trustworthy source, I made this pic my Halloween viewing this year and was not disappointed. A hearty romp through four (sort of) interrelated stories, spun out in nonchronological fashion and represented in the guise of a comic book, this seasonal offering has a little bit of something for just about everybody: unsuspected killers, party girls, junior pranksters, misbehaving adults, a sour old man, werewolves. Not terribly beholden of any particular era or genre, it manages to tiptoe between reverence and mockery, retro appeal and modern trappings, and is all the better for it. I suppose some could quibble that it’s a little tame, and while that may be a fair assessment, this is good, wholesome family entertainment, so don’t let it dissuade you. (You’d be advised to have a passably peculiar family, though.)

why did i watch this movie?

I needed appropriate Hallows’ Eve entertainment, and the ebook Schlock Treatment by “Duane Bradley” – whose opinion of many other films resonated with me, and who clearly shares my exquisite taste – singled out this production as an accomplished affair that deserved more attention.

should you watch this movie?

I could find little fault with it; it was thoroughly enjoyable.

highlight and low point

Described as an anthology-style picture, it doesn’t much present as one, to its credit. Several layers of subtle misdirection serve the proceedings exceedingly well, as does the filmmaker’s apparent discretion to avoid cheap scares in favor of slower and more evocative development. The humor, too, is more implicit than upfront. The final major portion of the story we’re shown contains what seemed to me a monumental continuity issue, though it doesn’t bear much actual import.

rating from outer space: A−

Nightmare aka Nightmare(s) in a Damaged Brain (1981)

written and directed by romano scavolini
goldmine productions inc.

Despite some questionable casting choices and unconvincing acting in several minor roles, this curiosity is actually a serious study of derangement and childhood trauma, murderous impulses and psychosis, a story of a mental patient who escapes and heads south. Grisly and graphic, it features a helluva shock early on and never settles much into complacency. Unfortunately, the saga drags a bit as it proceeds, especially when it focuses on the obnoxious children of a dysfunctional family. (Mom is little better.) The ending is unnecessarily confusing, especially as it shouldn’t be, due to an inexplicable – and uncharacteristic – refusal to let the camera linger.

why did i watch this movie?

Notorious in its day, it fit a bunch of my usual touchstones.

should you watch this movie?

“You lose a dangerously psychotic patient from a secret experimental drug program, and all you can say is ‘I’m sorry’? … Paul, you believed in these drugs and – you rebuilt this man and you did put him back out on the street, but now –he’s out there killing people, and we can’t have that.”

highlight and low point

The insanely over-the-top initial murder scene has to top this list, but many other aspects of this production might jostle for position. Baird Stafford’s portrayal of the disturbed lead is unsettling, one particular murder is disconcertingly realistic, and the director doesn’t scrimp on now-amusing portrayals of computer analysis OR graphic shots of female pudenda. (Times Square peep shows.) The lines quoted above are spoken by a character played by the producer, so perhaps unsurprisingly, the production paradox rules here: one might think this film would have been better were it more professionally accomplished, but any such consideration probably would have denatured it too much.

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+

Blood and Lace (1971)

directed by philip gilbert
contemporary filmakers/carlin company productions

Had I seen this one before? That’s not a rhetorical device damning this picture for predictability or anything; I kept having a strange sense of déjà vu at different times as I watched it. Boy, this is one sleazy flick – especially given that there’s only one scene of semi-nudity (a purported teenager’s back). What you have here is the tale of a very questionable orphanage, governed by a woman in cahoots with both the local caseworker and her dead husband (well, sorta), ably assisted by a drunken goon played by the guy who would later be known as Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, dispatching supposedly runaway teens but pocketing their state funds anyway thanks to an overused walk-in freezer in the basement. But then the new girl upsets the applecart, only for it eventually to be discovered that nothing is as it seems! Except for all the things that are exactly as they seem, of course, and perhaps one or more revelations that you may anticipate.

why did i watch this movie?

I have contemplated watching this movie multiple times before, and I cannot tell you why exactly I went ahead with it this time.

should you watch this movie?

While I don’t think one could call this a “classic,” even among the ranks of drive-in throwaways, it’s got a lot going for it.

highlight and low point

Just about every character in this drama is disreputable in one way or another, which makes for a pretty good time. Overall, the story is fairly plausible, even if in an Erskine Caldwell kind of way. The leads – Vic Tayback, Gloria Grahame, Melody Patterson, the aforementioned Len Lesser – are all appropriately sordid. The “blood” is unmistakably red paint.

rating from outer space: b+

Blood Theatre aka Movie House Massacre (1984)

written, directed, produced by alice raley
movie house productions

Oh, my. Technically speaking, this is a terrible movie … the kind in which the authorial credits intentionally may be misleading. (Purportedly, this is the directorial debut feature for Rick Sloane, and Alice Raley allegedly appears in it, but the title screens propose what’s reported up top, and who knows.) Honestly, it’s hard to say if this picture even aspires to being anything more than “terrible,” though it occasionally seems to think it’s attempting to ape the outrageous style of a John Waters film. (Among other factors, however, it lacks the élan of early Waters, along with the incisive writing.) The “acting” is perhaps middle-school level, the “humor” falls extremely flat, pacing is an afterthought, and even at barely 75 minutes it appears to contain an awful lot of padding. (The FX are intermittently effective, I’ll grant it that.) AND YET. Cliché though it may be, this heap transcends its ill-intentioned conception. If you “like” garbage cinema, that is – the standard disclaimer.

why did i watch this movie?

Its reputation preceded it.

should you watch this movie?

How much weight is borne by one man’s opinion, one man wonders.

highlight and low point

So this is where assessment gets tricky: throughout this tale of a cut-rate, scruple-free theater chain, several fake trailers – with names such as “Clown Whores of Hollywood” and “Nightmare of the Lost Whores” – are shown … and frankly, these may have been better ideas, even if they betray a certain lack of taste or deportment on behalf of their, uh, auteur. Who had previously screened the trailers. At which point we recall that this production is credited to somebody else. This particular faux film doesn’t have any actual ending or resolution; it just stops.

rating from outer space: D

Prom Night (1980)

directed by paul lynch
simcom/guardian trust company

This is kind of an old-fashioned picture, in my opinion, and why shouldn’t it be, you think, it’s almost 40 years old. What I mean, though, is that it seems kind of old-fashioned for 1980. With an almost quaint sense of pacing and development, along with some hilariously questionable plot turns or stratagems, even the brief nudity seems perfunctory. With a quasi-sociological examination of “high school” students, the character development really seemed lacking to me, given that at least one motive’s established for what appear to be revenge killings, yet the culpable characters eventually become somewhat sympathetic. (I briefly debated if this was instead a brilliant gambit before I regained my equilibrium.) Not a whole lot of fun, really, aside from the amusement of the paltry turnout for the “Disco Madness” prom scenes.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s kind of the archetypal ’80s slasher, another Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle, and I’d never seen it.

should you watch this movie?

hey, look, it’s a Plymouth Fury

It really only holds up as an opportunity to enjoy certain horror movie tropes, even if it does try to create a more interesting story, to variable effect.

highlight and low point

Admittedly, there’s a lot to appreciate here, from the KISS poster in the school cafeteria and attendant photos in one girl’s locker (for the sake of argument, this is what KISS was up to at the time), to the aforementioned disco theme, to the inexplicably exploding van, to the half-assed attempt at establishing red herrings, to the ineffectual police procedures, and on and on. Unfortunately, it never gets too interesting and we don’t care much about any of the characters. The first murder scene is unexpectedly horrific.

RATING FROM OUTER SPACE: C−

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−