Mimic (1997)

directed by guillermo del toro
miramax films

Now that I know this is a Guillermo Del Toro production – I mean, now that I know who that is, as I didn’t when I first saw this film – it seems so obvious. The bugs, the labyrinthine depths, the hokum religiosity, the brooding shadows. And the heaviness. Everything’s so portentous, all the time. But when you’re dealing with hybrid mutant DNA experiments threatening the very existence of man – nay, humankind – I guess that’s allowed. So come on, let’s get metaphysical. Personally, I always enjoy it when movies take advantage of the legendary lost/abandoned/forgotten/secret NYC subway stations. It’s like its own Atlantean fable at this point. But anyway, Mira Sorvino plays an entomologist who something something something the CDC and uh-oh now there’s a Rob Bottin creature creation. And a bit of a wannabe action flick besides.

why did i watch this movie?

As has been a burgeoning mini-theme lately, I saw this in the theater BITD, and had been meaning to recontemplate it ever since I screened that other Del Toro picture.

should you watch this movie?

It’s nothing too memorable, really.
(Hell, I didn’t even remember THAT.)

highlight and low point

Flimflam “science” is always good for a laff, and there’s a moment or two where the shivers might get to you, but overall this is kind of a trudge through the mundane … which is sorta remarkable, given that it concerns bioengineered insects that can convincingly portray people. Ms. Sorvino does not come across as a terribly convincing entomologist, though I will admit, I haven’t met any to whom I can compare her. The very final moments of touching humanity in this film are fraudulently cloying postproduction dubs. This version was the “director’s cut,” which okay, sure.

rating from outer space: C

The Killer Snakes aka 手 殺 蛇 (1974)

directed by kuei chi hung
shaw brothers

Unusually wistful for an exploitation movie with multiple rapes and plenty of animal abuse – plus more than one guy slapping around more than one woman – this product of the Hong Kong studios of Runme and Run Run Shaw certainly provides plenty of fodder for your rumination. That doesn’t much excuse most of what goes on here, but at least there’s a plot and a story, more or less, to provide some underpinning. And oh man, the snakes. SO many snakes, so often very clearly being hurled across the length of the shot so as to emulate leaping or springing. The secondary plotline concerns what we now call “human trafficking” but just used to call “prostitution.” Plus probably the relationship between greed and rapacity. Boy howdy, is that reading too much into a picture called “The Killer Snakes.”

why did i watch this movie?

I won’t lie, it promised to be both lurid and somewhat preposterous. I may have expected more sheer lunacy and less slice-of-life grittiness, however. With the sadism confined to humans.

should you watch this movie?

Although it’s kind of amusing when our protagonist, “Keto,” urges his serpent friends to bite and kill his enemies or oppressors, this is a largely downbeat and depressing feature. Who’d’ve guessed that from a tale of a (literally) beaten-down loser who enlists an army of ophidians to avenge him, and even to perform what he claims is a mercy killing?

highlight and low point

Snakes get mutilated, tortured and killed. Maybe I need to vet these pictures better, potential spoilers be damned. Keto’s one outfit keeps reassembling itself, Hulk-like, no matter what happens to him. At one point, he springs monitor lizards on his victim. Those aren’t even snakes, man.

rating from outer space: c−

The Relic (1997)

directed by peter hyams
pacific western, cloud nine entertainment, polygram filmed entertainment, marubeni, toho-towa, tele-münchen, bbc et al.

The sort of well-budgeted Hollywood horror thriller that eventually must become just another iteration of Alien, this vehicle for nobody in particular boasts, above anything else, a bland technical competence as its calling card. You can pick which stock character is your fave, but I vote for “the Mayor” (pun definitely intended) throwing his weight around as if “Chicago” is his personal fiefdom. You will recognize the outline: anthropologist mysteriously doesn’t return from an expedition, but a RELIC (which by the way has almost nothing to do with anything else that happens here) does, and then a creature you barely see for most of the picture slaughters a bunch of people, in the dark. WHAT’S the connection? WILL the day be saved? The End. Wait, let’s at least give ’em credit for not jamming in a subplot featuring a developing love story.

why did i watch this movie?

Long ago, I saw this flick in the theater, much as I did many of its ilk*, and I remembered almost nothing about it. For good reason, as it turns out.

*Species! Species 2! Mimic! The Faculty! It was the ’90s, man!
Creepy monsters were all around us!

should you watch this movie?

See that list of entities responsible for cobbling this feature together? That’s a focus group, and the result was this bland consensus.

highlight and low point

The most interesting thing about this production is how remarkably generic it is. From the opening scenes of the scientist’s “fieldwork” (featuring “natives”) all the way to the – “spoiler alert” – preposterous death throes of the mutant-DNA monster, it just follows the template. Through tunnels, and occasionally through glass.

rating from outer space: D


©1972 E.C. Publications, Inc.

 

Horror High (1973)

directed by larry n. stouffer
jamieson film company

What great fun this cheap little ripoff drive-in picture is! Not even making any bones about deriving its plot from (the Strange Case of) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this no-budget quickie for some reason features several then-NFL stars in cameo roles, mainly as cops. A few skulls are bandied about, along with copious amounts of very fake blood, the makeup FX are even more minimal than in The Prey, and I’m a little abashed that I didn’t recognize Rosie Holotik from Don’t Look in the Basement. Groovy soundtrack song – “Vernon’s Theme,” so earnest and so redolent of its era I laughed out loud – and a whole lotta folks WAY too old to be playing high schoolers round out this gritty drama, devotedly infused with as much pathos as could conceivably be concocted … in a Chemistry lab, say. Put it on your list of overlooked cut-rate gems, it’s worth it.

why did i watch this movie?

I confess, I have no idea. Maybe the fact that I’ve seen 1987’s completely unrelated (and also quite enjoyable!) Return to Horror High played a subconscious role. WHO can say.

Should you watch this movie?

While offering the usual caveat that semipro flicks like this played a major rôle in this blög’s very genesis, I must answer that query in the affirmative.

highlight and low point

A certain economy of scripting is something of a marvelous feat. Why or how can Vernon always be sneaking into the school building at any hour, one wonders … well, see, his mother’s dead and his dad travels for work a lot. The studying vignette with Robin, a bunch of books and a bowl of ice cream, is affecting. The paper cutter demanded more usage, though.

rating from outer space: B+

Wendigo (2001)

written, directed, edited by larry fessenden
glass eye pix/antidote films

I had to more or less force myself to finish watching this tale of a weekend trip gone bad. I don’t think it was this picture’s fault, though, even if I neither found it particularly interesting nor would agree that it’s affecting and frightening. Maybe it’s a trend – the last couple films covered here haven’t really delivered the goods I have sought, plus it’s “baseball season” after a fashion, and I have a bunch of other stuff I gotta worry about, and, and, and. I know that’s a bit unfair. One thing I will say for this Larry Fessenden production: he got terrific acting jobs outta pretty much his entire cast. The naturalistic nature of most of the story really works, and paradoxically, therein lies some of the problem. The supernatural stuff, which eventually strives to establish a presence, doesn’t carry enough weight and mainly feels like an intrusion. I’m not at all sure the story even needed it.

why did i watch this movie?

I’d like to say because it’s under Fessenden’s imprimatur and leave it at that, but that’s only partially the reason. It was the primary factor I paid attention to its inclusion in that same Fangoria book, however.

should you watch this movie?

I’d prefer to be more positive here, because as often noted, I strongly support the independent film community. This offering doesn’t present a compelling argument, though.

highlight and low point

The family members (mom, dad, youth) are completely convincing as a unit. It’s a really finely wrought set of performances. The student-film camerawork had me rolling my eyes. And again, there’s a seeming dichotomy of purpose here, and the feature never seems to commit one way or another.

rating from outer space: C

Nightmares (1983)

directed by joseph sargent
universal

Allegedly produced for NBC TV, though for what, or which anthology series, seems to be in dispute – you can’t trust Wikipedia and I’ve noticed IMDb is far from infallible as well, but let’s ignore for the moment any debate about notions of authority in this exciting modern age – this set of four short vignettes isn’t bereft of effective moments, even if nothing gets visceral or even very threatening, in keeping with its origins. (Aside from the third segment, “The Benediction,” which features some intense moments courtesy of its classic tale of a “duel” on the highway with an unidentified motorized antagonist.) Otherwise, the first segment is piffle, and too short to build any momentum, the second features Emilio Estevez echoing notions of Tron with a ripping punk soundtrack, and the final chapter – which further makes use of Black Flag’s “Louie Louie” – is capped with wild-kingdom FX highly reminiscent of the end of Devil Dog. Strictly for nostalgists.


why did i watch this movie?

It’s one of the “roles” on Lee Ving’s dossier.


should you watch this movie?

The renditions of classic FEAR tunes heard during “The Bishop of Battle” are not the versions from The Record. That’s what I thought upon hearing them, anyway, and the end credits appear to bear out my impression.

highlight and low point

This picture really isn’t that bad, but even for episodic horror it feels slight. None of the tales have any kind of staying power, regardless of content or execution. Honestly, it would have worked far better delivered by cathode ray tube. Estevez is pretty good, Lance Henriksen is solid, Richard Masur is convincing, and the late Bridgette Anderson turns in one of the better
performances you’re likely to see by a 7-year-old.

rating from outer space: C−

Mosquito (1994)

directed by gary jones
acme films, ltd./excalibur motion pictures/antibes, inc.

The sort of low-budget affair during which you’re never not acutely aware you’re watching a movie made on a shoestring, this off-brand extravaganza survives on the chutzpah of its gigantic insect puppets and a game cast of people who seem as though they’ve never acted before. At least on film – the irrepressible Mike Hard plays a small role as part of a criminal element, for instance. Meanwhile, as a major character, late-career sometime actor Ron Asheton does a credible job, especially by the standards of the surrounding evidence. The typically absurdist plot – alien spaceship crashes in swamp, mosquito sucks alien blood, mosquito grows humongous, everyone dies – was thankfully pared down by fiscal realities. “That’s some science fiction bullshit,” Asheton’s character Hendricks accuses. “No,” he’s told. “You are living in science FACT.” This picture allegedly has become a cult favorite, and if so, that cult must really be starved for entertainment.

why did i watch this movie?

I had just finished Jim Jarmusch‘s Stooges documentary Gimme Danger, noticed the billing here and thought, “That’s one hell of a coincidence.”


should you watch this movie?

It’s really lousy, but if you’re in the right frame of mind you might not care much.


highlight and low point

Not that it was a concern to begin with, but the closer this production gets to its grand finale the less anyone involved even winks at verisimilitude. Case in point: our heroes jump off the roof of a house to escape the teeming parasitic horde, suffering no ill effects from a conspicuously soft landing. Plus, a certain lack of passion and effort becomes more noticeable as things … progress. Rebuttal: “Just as I expected – those mosquitoes are making these bodies radioactive.”

rating from outer space: D+

Prophecy (1979)

directed by john frankenheimer
paramount pictures
a robert l. rosen production

Boy, does this one feel like a missed opportunity. Compelling despite itself for the majority of its running time, this cautionary eco-terror tale collapses drastically once the “monster” is revealed. Because it’s a bear. Sure, it’s an ursine that appears kinda acid-damaged (no, not that kind), but it’s a bear nonetheless. Which is quite a letdown, given all the Science-y gobbledygook promising mutations and devastation of the food chain and so forth, and renders this production not unlike a handful of other such endeavors about rampaging animals. Until that reveal, however, it’s an engrossing flick that works pretty well. The usual caveat applies about giving the details of the story too much thought. Especially those that are glossed over in the first place.

why did i watch this movie?

I had just finished the David Seltzer novel and felt it must have been filmed at some point. It turns out he wrote the script first.

should you watch this movie?

If you plan to, I’d recommend reading the novelization beforehand. It helps fill in a lot of backstory. Of course, it may also contribute to a feeling of disappointment with the screen version.

highlight and low point

The bear monster is supposed to be humongous – some of the promotional material specifies “15 feet tall” – and it isn’t. It’s, you know, bear-sized. Except when it’s smaller, because it’s a guy in a bear monster suit. Other than that, this picture’s biggest problem is that it pares away the relationships intended to give events their gravitas. The allusion to Minamata disease is indeed frightening, even if the source material fails to note the outbreak amongst First Nations people in Ontario, Canada, that must have inspired the proceedings.

rating from outer space: C−

Bats (1999)

directed by louis morneau
destination films

A typically dunderheaded nature horror predicated on an “accident,” this flick features not one believable element. You will not believe that Dina Meyer’s character is a bat expert with a Ph.D., you will not believe that Lou Diamond Phillips makes a creditable sheriff, “Leon” doesn’t even always seem to believe he’s supposed to recite his character’s lines, and you certainly won’t believe the BATS are real for even a second. In other words, it’s quite the enjoyable waste of time. The BATS, of course, “escaped” from some sorta experiment-cum-military project. (Maybe.) A wannabe Halloween blockbuster that somehow made money, it would’ve been perfect brainless summer fare. Oh, by the way, the predetermined ending isn’t believable, either.

why did i watch this movie?

I was in the mood for just this type of highbrow feature. Actually, by my standards, I was veritably giddy with anticipation.

should you watch this movie?

What ELSE are you doing?


highlight and low point

The BATS. Oh my my my, the BATS. Some are animated. Some are animatronic! Some are bat size. Some are, like, scary-movie-bat size. And once in a while, for effect I assume, one or two are the size of goddamn turkey vultures. Plus, the very first time the BATS kill anyone, they rip ’em to shreds. After that, they … don’t. These facts more or less encapsulate the professionalism imbued in this endeavor. Also quite humorous: the ongoing “hints” that the obviously nefarious scientific foil is concealing a dark secret. Stock military footage is thrown in for good measure, along with a rather remarkably turgid action sequence. Somewhat surprisingly, few overt attempts at comedy are present. But as Steven Wright observed, you can’t have everything – where would you put it?

rating from outer space: C+

Die, Monster, Die! aka Monster of Terror (1965)

directed by daniel haller
american international pictures/alta vista film productions

For the first half-hour or so, this sumptuously appointed fable seems as though it’s going to be a vastly rewarding romp through B-movie silliness, complete with Boris Karloff adding plenty of dramatic intrigue. Unfortunately, it soon descends into choppy pointlessness, though the inane and repetitious dialogue might bolster things for a while if you’re in the right mood. The story kinda feels cobbled together as it goes along, and even the requisite expository scenes don’t much help to clarify matters. A few startling moments crop up here and there, though only the first earns its reaction, and it goes nowhere. Based on “The Colour Out of Space” by H. P. Lovecraft, though how or why Arkham, MA, is transplanted to England is a question best left to others.

why did i watch this movie?

I found it under the title “Monster of Terror,” which … I mean, what more do you need? The presence of Boris Karloff and some glowing (pun definitely intended) nostalgia offered by commenters sealed the deal.

should you watch this movie?

I will table that question until I’ve watched a couple other filmed interpretations of the classic story.

highlight and low point

Boris Karloff’s clearly dissembling patriarch and his myopic assistant Merwyn are a hoot, and our hero Reinhart’s difficulties with the locals in Arkham set the picture up rather nicely. By far the best effects are achieved when Stephen and Susan are creeping downstairs in the dark guided by one lighted candle … which brightly illumines absolutely everything in the vicinity, and looks suspiciously like a spotlight trained right on them. Again, there are a few genuinely unsettling moments, but they’re wasted  – along with the lavish set dressing – by a flimsy screenplay.

rating from outer space: C−