Baba Yaga aka Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch aka The Devil Witch aka Kiss Me, Kill Me aka Black Magic (1973)

directed by corrado farina
14 luglio cinematografica s.r.l./simone allouche productions

Definitely the first film I’ve seen based on the erotically charged comics of Guido Crepax, this Italian tale of intrigue – and, you know, deadly puppets dressed in S&M gear that can manifest in fleshly human form – is, first and foremost, an examination of artful-nude studio photography vis-à-vis commercial filmmaking. And an attempted meditation on taste and the merits of artistic forms. Plus, of course, chic fashion, lots of chic fashion. Events never get very frightening, although the ending scenes contain some interesting and eerie moments, and the big reveal that sets them up isn’t without impact. The way things wrap up renders much of the story really kind of pointless, though because of the multiple erotic death dream sequences, at least you could toss “questions of conscience” into the list up above. Don’t know what to make of the Nazis or the other military imagery.

why did i watch this movie?

I mean, I saw the title “Baba Yaga, The Devil Witch.” I didn’t even know about the Crepax connection until the title cards showed.


should you watch this movie?

It’s amusing in a kitschy way, but apparently impossible to see in its intended form. (Footage that may or may not contribute to the film’s cohesion was excised without the director’s consent.) The version I watched contained some scenes inserted from work prints.

highlight and low point

There are dandy pseudophilosophical musings such as “If you don’t use the means that the system provides, what other possibilities have you got?” Mind you, the characters sharing this exchange are pretty far from revolutionary types. It’s also pretty moving when the pseudo heroine, Valentina, icily exclaims, “I couldn’t care less about … power and riches and your cosmic secrets!”

rating from outer space: C−

Mercy Black (2019)

written and directed by owen egerton
divide/conquer

Oh, for crying out loud … here we go again with this bushwah. I try really hard not to sound like a broken record in these pages, which is sometimes a chore, but I may have no choice this time. What we have here is a spook film with a checklist, making sure it gives audiences exactly what they’ve already gotten so many times before – albeit one that for a brief, barely glimpsed moment has a fleeting chance to offer something different, to head somewhere that might be more than routine. But it doesn’t do that; at right about that same moment, it dives into the usual trough. Then it throws the ol’ SHOCKING reveal at you before copping out completely. Refusing to commit to any of its conceits, this Netflix offering exemplifies the perhaps apocryphal adage “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Dissatisfying at best.

why did i watch this movie?

Uh, yeah … I must have been asleep at the switch, because the description that accompanies this flick really doesn’t sound all that stimulating.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a blatant recasting of the 2014 “Slender Man” stabbing from Wisconsin, and it really isn’t worth your time.


highlight and low point

Maybe the most polite way I could put it is to posit that at no point in this parade of platitudinous pusillanimity do events rise above or plummet beneath a plateau. (That is, it may be tired and unimaginative throughout, but hey, at least it’s consistent.) Everything that could be worthwhile about this experience lies solely within your ability to imagine it, which, mirabile dictu, happens to align with one of this picture’s insufficiently addressed themes. It is also directed clumsily.

rating from outer space: D

Soul to Keep (2018)

directed by david allensworth and moniÈre
shady tree films/cineque pictures

“Not bad,” I thought to myself as this one finished. I mean, it wasn’t great, not by any means, don’t get me wrong – but it overcame a few significant faults to pass the time well enough. The repeatedly used FX was pretty lousy and didn’t play well, and the production felt like a low-budget friends-and-family affair, but the slowly developing storyline held some promise. Okay, sure, it involves a group of young people that find an EVIL BOOK in a MYSTERIOUS BASEMENT (festooned with blood!) on an OLD FARM, and so naturally decide to try to summon a demon – that might provoke an eyeroll, as may the telegraphed minor twist at the very end. Ah, but what to make of all those relationships, anyway? (Psst – that’s a clue.)

why did i watch this movie?

I don’t remember. Perhaps invoking the heady name of Beelzebub did the trick.

should you watch this movie?

How hypercritical are you? I’ve seen a lot of hot takes about this picture from people I can only presume don’t realize how hard it is to make one of these features.

highlight and low point

This picture probably coulda used clearer direction and a less derivative conclusion, yes, but again, I kinda grade on a curve ’round these parts, and a flick like this – made well beyond the fringes of the famous names and fancy catering of the celluloid industry – benefits greatly from that position. Things could be better, as a few problems insist: some of the acting isn’t up to snuff and eventually one gets the feeling the screenplay tried to stuff in a few too many twists ‘n’ turns. The mostly obnoxious college-age kids seem to be accurately portrayed, though.

rating from outer space: c−

The Blind Dead aka Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

written and directed by amando de ossorio
plata films s.a./interfilme
english adaptation by robert oliver

Trifle with ME, will you! Upon finishing this often very creepy – if also easy to dismiss – Spanish/Portuguese “revenant” horror, I discovered that the 1998 version I’d just seen had been heavily edited to remove nearly 20 minutes of sex and gore … so naturally I have now obtained the original cut, and will gladly report back on it at a later time. For most of this edition’s 82 minutes, it doesn’t much cross the line into really frightening or even particularly troubling territory, but its climax almost makes up for that problem by developing an unforeseen new realm of terrorizing. A bit of a wavering focus detracts from the overall ambience, however, rendering it a little too camp to be truly effective.

why did i watch this Movie?

With a commendable title such as this one, it was probably inevitable.

should you watch this movie?

I am going to table that question until I watch the unexpurgated print.

highlight and low point

“Hark, O mighty one, our sacrifice begins! We commence … with the sacrifice.” As a statement of purpose by the “Knights Templar” who will hundreds of years later arise from their graves whenever some poor fool chances upon them, that one is … kind of redundant. Among the abridgments, a sexual assault is rather obviously excised. The blind dead are a terrific creation, presaging the album jackets of Mob Rules, the 2003 edition of Sleep’s Dopesmoker, and a million other \m/ memes. And they have (presumably also blind, dead) horses! How the hell does that work! Where are they buried!

rating from outer space: I [Incomplete]

(By the way, if you like “Satan Worshipping Doom,” you’ll love Chicago’s Bongripper, with whom I am affiliated in no way, shape or form.)

All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
modernciné

Though troublesome in several ways – thematically, I mean – this unforeseen remake of the mostly unseen original kicks off with panache and fairly quickly vaults to a highly entertaining level before coming back to ground somewhat. But even as it slips gears a bit, it also manages to generate more tension than expected, deftly melding its comedic and horrific elements (mostly, anyway). Built on the framework of the earlier edition, it improves on the formula not only by dint of its professional production values, but also by revamping the script to make it less derivative. A worthy part of the McKee-Sivertson film family, definitely.

why did i watch this movie?

Look, man, I like most of McKee’s stuff, all right? Plus I had read good stuff about it.

should you watch this movie?

It’s a little slick, and carries a bit of the ’90s meta horror vibe, and I suppose that may dissuade some of you.

highlight and low point

The witchcraft angle in this version is a lot more front-and-center than in the first take; one of the characters is an out-and-proud witch, and that works well for both the high-school setting and a nice moment of self-actualization later in the picture. It also adds not a little fun ‘n’ games to the mix. The interplay between the cheerleaders is also entertaining, although the sapphic teensploitation is dubious, to say the least. The film also eventually touches on the uncomfortable topic of acquaintance rape, after having portrayed male-on-female battery and indicting a willful cultural ignorance of its import. (Remember, folks, this is a horror comedy!) The closing credits play over a hodgepodge of tunes, as they did in the premier version.

rating from outer space: B

hmmm … or IS it

All Cheerleaders Die (2001)

written and directed by lucky mckee and chris sivertson
mckee, sivertson, shelli merrill, jeff rimmer, kevin sparks et al.

So, this is essentially a home movie, you know, shot on video during daylight hours, with a game but novice cast, beginner FX, and an interesting storyline that devolves into standard zombie fare. It’s also wildly ambitious and somewhat unconventional in structure, particularly for the type of amateur production it is, and for what it’s worth also flaunts an independent and presumably localized soundtrack. If I said I could tell from this beginning where co-director McKee’s career would head – or for that matter, that of his co-director – I’d be blatantly lying to you, because it only occasionally evinces any hint that its makers even had such a goal in mind, much less the abilities to achieve it. They must at least have had motivation and perseverance, though.

why did i watch this movie?

I have admired some of McKee’s other work, and as I pondered seeing the 2013 version of this film, discovered that it was possible to track down this artifact.

should you watch this movie?

It’s kinda interesting as a historical artifact, but that status doesn’t make the sophomoric moments any more palatable – nor the lack of production values.

highlight and low point

As hinted above, the setup is pretty interesting, especially as it takes time to take effect – a significant delay is involved, giving the filmmakers more time for character and story development. The scene that eventually triggers the mayhem is also quite unexpected, and amongst less successful thespians, Shelli Merrill stands out for her concerted efforts. The cheerleading, however, is atrocious and unconvincing. Other drawbacks have been covered, and although the “bloodthirsty undead” angle is pretty tired, I won’t fault that here.

rating from outer space: C−

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−