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−

Daddy’s Deadly Darling (1984) aka Pigs (1973), etc., etc.

produced and directed (and likely written) by marc lawrence
safia s.a.

Untangling which of the many edits or releases this particular edition represented of what was intended to be called “The 13th Pig” took me some sleuthing, as this oft-rejiggered should-be cult classic’s tangle of different owners and distributors practically redefines the term “exploitation.” The picture itself wasn’t what I’d expected, either, even if I’d be hard-pressed to explicate exactly what that might have been; instead, this little oddity is a somewhat insightful meditation on mental illness, child sex abuse, codependency, and other fun, happy stuff. Oh, yeah, and multiple bodies get fed to (or are “turned into”) pigs, hence the ostensible original title. Nothing terribly graphic occurs herein until just before this version’s tacked-on coda, but a creepy, unsettling vibe sustains itself via many little details. One big detail: the two main actors were father and daughter, only enhancing the oddity. Ah, the movie business.

why did i watch this movie?

The title – “Pigs,” that is – and given year (which in this case was ’72), along with a brief synopsis, granted me visions of misbegotten bloody backwoods savagery, thematically aligning with whatever tangent I was pursuing.

should you watch this movie?

Well, now that I think I’ve tracked down the director’s preferred version of his movie, I’m planning to watch it again, if that tells you anything.

highlight and low point

As “Zambrini,” Lawrence portrays a cunning expediency in a manner suggesting a deranged hybrid of Michael Richards as Kramer and Christopher Lloyd’s Jim Ignatowski from Taxi. His daughter Toni seemingly perfected the oblivious affect of the dangerously disordered mind. Charles Bernstein’s ridiculous period-perfect pop ditty is a marvel.

And: “It seems as though dead people just don’t have any civil rights at all.”

rating from outer space: C+

Feral (2017)

directed by mark h. young
rough cut productions

If you check out reviews of this undead-people-eaters-caused-by-a-virus flick, you’d be excused for thinking it’s the worst thing ever. It’s really not, though you may already have guessed that it falls exceedingly short in the “fresh new ideas” department. Unlike many pundits, though, I thought this picture did a pretty good job in sustaining tension – at least for roughly the first half of the picture – but I guess that’s because I found the slow pacing to be effective, rather than, say, boring. I also appear to be in the minority for thinking the relationships between the dwindling band of survivors contributed an emotional basis for the tenor of some of the ensuing action. Nobody else, however, seems to have noticed the least acceptable oversight in this film, that being the questionable endurance and inexcusable motives of the guy who just happens to have a cabin in the woods … with a portentous cellar.

why did i watch this movie?

The trailer made it seem a lot more interesting than it turned out to be. (I suspect I may have conflated it with another.)

should you watch this movie?

For roughly the first half of the picture, I would’ve been inclined to advise just that, but it’s all downhill from that point. Inconsistencies and improbabilities pile up and it embraces standard-issue fare.

highlight and low point

It’s nice to look at, I guess; the camerawork finely burnishes some impressive displays and notes more minor hints as well. The sense of despair could have been more palpable, and for a plot with so few characters it has a little too much trouble not misplacing some of them. The responsible affliction is either a cop-out or a ripoff – your call.

rating from outer space: C−

Contagion aka John Lechago’s Contagion aka Alien Contagion aka Bio Slime (2010)

written and directed by john lechago
forward motion entertainment/lechago entertainment

A digital-video delight, the sort of very independent production whose cast largely doubles as its crew, and the fitfully heroic tale of a dissipated artist with some dissolute acquaintances, this particular “Contagion” likely ranks as the first SF horror epic in which humanity would appear to be saved by a meth-lab explosion. (Should you not be aware that the next sentence would read … OR IS IT, apply immediately for Remedial Thriller 101.) Dubious fun from start to finish, with most of the action occurring within a down-at-its-heels tenement populated by the aforementioned meth lab, the drunken artist’s “live-work space,” a pornographer, and various hangers-on and ne’er-do-wells, the story is set in motion by a mysterious criminal transaction and some poor decision-making skills, and mutates from there. A SHOCKING ending is included at no extra charge.

why did i watch this movie?

I found this picture under the title “Bio Slime,” and naturally thought I needed to take a gander at it – a wise choice.

should you watch this movie?

Why the hell not?

highlight and low point

Honestly, Vinnie Bilancio’s depiction of the dipsomaniac struck a chord, thanks to my extensive personal research on the condition. I particularly enjoyed it when he decided to go ahead and start drinking the denatured alcohol he kept around to clean his brushes or remove paint or whatever. That’s some quality realism there. The FX are a mixed bag, mainly consisting of a lot of latex and some lights and hoses, but the deft characterizations of the different personalities and the mysterious nature and affiliation of the “specimen” from the “Teratology Division” are spot-on. The film also brandishes just the right amount of excessive taboo sleaze and black (bleak?) humor.

rating from outer space: A−

Slaughterhouse (1987)

written and directed by rick roessler
american artists

From the very beginning of this picture, I was pleasantly surprised. Well, scratch that – the very beginning of this picture is actual footage of a pork-processing plant, complete with pig massacre, and your faithful correspondent is a vegan animal lover – but once the movie proper began, it outdid my expectations. It hadn’t sounded promising, from the overly obvious title to the mentally challenged hillbilly character to the billing as a “horror comedy,” but it’s a fairly well-made slasher pic. As it turns out, the deranged Bacon scion (uh-huh, I know) is effectively unsettling, the humor is … well, “subtle” isn’t the right word, but there’s no mugging or slapstick and no awful punmanship, either. The kids are just regular kids, it doesn’t quite follow the usual trite template, and even the gore is reasonably presented, and fairly minimal. Color me impressed.

why did i watch this movie?

This one’s been in the queue for so long I have no idea. I saw a reference to it somewhere and thought, that sounds as though it could be terrible, I should watch it.

should you watch this movie?

With the acknowledgment that it wasn’t ever gonna win too many awards for originality, you could make much worse choices for overlooked ’80s numbers.

highlight and low point

That this picture could have degenerated into a cartoonish farce but didn’t ranks as among its best features. It does include the widely lampooned “let the villain talk long enough for help to arrive” shtick, though, along with the timeworn device of a freeze-frame ending – which here proved doubly pointless, as a sequel never materialized because this production failed to attract a lucrative distribution offer. The delightfully generic synthpop tunes contribute sporadic bonus contemporizing.

rating from outer space: B