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+

Don’t Go in the Woods aka Don’t Go in the Woods … Alone! (1981)

directed by james bryan
jbf

This picture is almost breathtakingly incompetent. It features possibly the most ersatz blood I have ever seen, its soundtrack is a wildly inappropriate symphony of treated electronic squawks and bleeps – and it is also a vivid reminder of a time when independent horror features could carve out their own niche at the nation’s “nabes” and drive-ins. As such, despite its excessive documentary-style nature shots, unnecessary scenes, continuity problems, clearly overdubbed dialogue, utterly superfluous moments, endless stream of unidentified cast members, and overly linear “plot,” this flick demands a place at the cult-classic table with the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Midnight movie weekends should definitely feature people screaming nonsensical audience-participation crap at this epic.


why did i watch this movie?

I don’t know about you, but I’m almost always up for a film with a title warning “DON’T GO IN” this, “DON’T GO NEAR” that, and so forth.

should you watch this movie?

If you had a venue where you could screen this as part of some event or other, or project it as a sideline feature or during an interlude or something, it would probably go over pretty well. Otherwise?

No.

highlight and low point

The best part of this adventure, hands down, is the incredible scenery of the beautiful location in which they filmed, which may be Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

This isn’t even one of the good shots

Whatever it is, I wanna go there, even if it’s inhabited by a deranged mountain man or any survivors of related massacres. Honestly, though, I also enjoyed the completely unpretentious portrayals of the members of the sheriff’s department. Managing to stand out even in a completely haphazard production, the bewildering parade of random characters is sui generis.

rating from outer space: D+

The Basement (2017)

directed by laszlo illes
intergalactic productions/pannonia pictures

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before – a group of friends is harassed and stalked by masked assailants in a confined location, and it might be supernatural in nature. All right, that’s a little bit unfair to this flick mostly situated under the streets of Budapest, because the group are the intruders, even if the entrance to THE BASEMENT was open, so … Atmospheric, on occasion aptly frightful, verging on ominous, this generically likable picture never really overcomes its setup, even if it does expand the parameters a bit. For instance, the members of the group never really agree with each other about what it is they may be facing. Their shared confusion is welcome, as is the fact that one of the characters keeps telling the others they’re being stupid. Also, though one gets the sense that the script may not be playing totally fair, it doesn’t egregiously break the rules, either, always leaving just enough room for doubt. That, however, doesn’t quite suffice, and it never becomes really gripping. It also shares its name with an American film made the same year that doesn’t sound much more inventive.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s Hungarian. I do not think I’d seen a Hungarian film since Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky’s Werckmeister Harmonies … a long time ago. (I think that’s the one that sums up 2.5 hours of misery with the observation “Nothing means anything.”)

should you watch this movie?

“There is no there there.”

highlight and low point

Most of this picture is in English, and though supposedly subtitled, did not translate the random Hungarian dialogue – an intriguing touch. The comically blatant “Vitamin Water” product placement worsts the contorted attempt to avoid revealing the film’s core banality too soon.

rating from outer space: C

 

 

Death Dorm aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood aka Pranks (1982)

directed by jeffrey obrow and stephen carpenter
jeff obrow productions

Sloppy and unfocused, this run-of-the-mill affair struggled to hold my attention. The debut offering from Obrow and Carpenter, made a few years before their much more accomplished The Power, it reminded me why I find The Evil Dead so interesting as a filmmaker’s initial effort – its conceptualization. Here, all we have is a rather standard story about a small group of people being picked off one by one, with the usual false clues and misplaced suspicions. Many hallmarks of an essentially amateur production are also present, such as ragged editing and poorly paced and redundant scenes. I’m not saying I could do better; for a prospective script written by film students and shot on-campus during break, it’s more than good enough. Impressively, the ending contains an unexpected wrinkle.

why did i watch this movie?

As is often the case, as I was writing my review of The Power, I decided I should probably give this one a look.

should you watch this movie?

Aside from a cast of actors you’ll largely never see again, there’s nothing too interesting here aside from the opportunity to muse about the instincts of those who produce horror features. So very often the writers opt for set pieces and pat themes that conform to genre conventions. I suppose if you’re trying to sell investors and backers on your first attempt, this approach is reasonable, but it often just seems to be business as usual in this arena.

highlight and low point

Though it’s fairly easy at times to observe that these people had never made a movie before, they did a pretty convincing job with at least one of the death scenes.

Rating from outer space: c−

boy, that looks official