Thursday, January 17, 2019

What I Watched in December

WIDOWS (2018) is the kind of crime thriller that gives crime thrillers a good name. It’s smart, well plotted and emotionally  honest about its characters. It helps that the cast is exceptional with Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki turning in brilliant performances. They bring nuance and strength to roles that could be merely serviceable if handled by less capable actors. I expected high level work from Davis but I had only seen Debicki in roles that didn’t require real depth or skill. In this film she is a revelation and a perfect match for her veteran partner. Their male co-stars are very good as well but those two ladies are the beating heart of this very good film. This is my first encounter with director Steve McQueen but I think I’ll be seeking out his earlier work now. His eye for scripts seems solid and his visual choices are clever often finding a fresh way to deliver layers of information within a single shot. This is one of the best films of the year. 

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is one of the best animated film of recent years and one of the best Spider-Man films yet made. It effortlessly introduces its audience to huge amounts of detail and a dozen characters while telling an exciting and ever expanding story. As a lifelong fan of the character and it's many permutations I was happy to see so many of the various incarnations given space to be the unique heroes that they are on the page. It's wonderful to have all these possibilities open up for future screen stories with such an intelligent film. 

They said it couldn't be done. It was the joke kicked round the schoolyard for decades. But now, James Wan brings AQUAMAN to the big screen as the badass superhero he has always been on the comics page. Acknowledging the sneering comments that have 'Super Friended' the character 's reputation early on the film presents an origin tale built to interlock with the present day adventure as Arthur Curry takes his place in Atlantis, accidentally creates his greatest adversary and learns the fate of his absent mother. It's almost too much for one film (and it's a little too long) but it's not slow and the charm of Jason Momoa in the title role is infectious. Looking forward to more such films!


WIDOWS (2018) - 9
TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL (1953) - 7 (well done Cheeta action)
SUSPIRIA (1977) - 9 (1977) (with live musical performance of the score)
PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES (2015) - 7 (rewatch)
1941 (1979) - 9 (rewatch of the long cut)
BATMAN RETURNS (1992) - 9 (rewatch)
CARRY ON SCREAMING (1966) - 6 (funny but a little long)
SLAY BELLES (2015) - 3 (low budget Santa horror)
TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950) - 7 (Christmas tree rustlers! Roy Rogers) (rewatch)
THE ICE PIRATES (1984) - 3 (unfunny and slapdash)
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER (1991) - 4 (Slightly better than the previous two)
SCROOGE (1970) - 9 (rewatch)
THE SHE-BUTTERFLY (1973) - 7 (Yugoslavian horror film!)
THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952) - 8 (wonderful stage drama)
AQUAMAN (2018) - 8
EMMANUELLE AND THE BLACK COBRA (1976) - 5 (rewatch on Blu)
AMAZON JAIL (1982) - 4 (Women In Prison tale with maximum nudity)
MURDER OVER NEW YORK (1940) - 7 (Charlie Chan mystery)

Monday, January 14, 2019

HOUSE OF TERRORS (1965) a.k.a. Kaidan Semushi Otoko On YouTube!

If you have any interest in Japanese ghost stories and have not seen this film yet - GO! Click above, get some popcorn, a drink and settle in for a great little chiller. This film should be much better known. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019


I just finished watching Jess Franco's film SINFONIA EROTICA (1980) recently released on Blu-ray by Severin. This is another of Franco's films that I've missed in my various hunts through bootlegs over the past 20 to 30 years and I was glad to see that there are still so many little hidden gems out there for me to find. This one was made in 1979 and is another of Franco's explorations of the works of the Marquis De Sade. While now that I've seen the film I don't agree with the ballyhoo on the back of the Blu-ray calling this a lost masterpiece, I do find it to be absolutely fascinating in many ways. This is once again Franco in experimental mode using the camera as a questing eye roaming around the scenes to lock onto images as the actors deliver their lines. At times these movements and changes in focus are seemingly at random but when sometimes they click the film succeeds in bringing a fresh perspective on the story slowly unfolding before you.

While the film certainly has all of the exploitable elements that you would expect from a 1970's lensed Jess Franco effort it is very much a period piece as well. Filmed on a couple of gorgeous locations with some pretty decent costuming and an attempt to bring a sense of. Reality to things. The movie manages to once again do to me what more and more of Franco from this period of his career is capable of - It manages to mesmerize me. For an hour and 24 minutes I was caught up, dazzled, occasionally frustrated and sometimes overly curious about how he is doing what he's doing and why he is attempting to tell this story in this way.

From the opening we are told that there is a plot involved between Lina Romay's character and her doctor. It's not until the third act, of course, that we will learn what this plot is but along the way we see enough depravity around the home she lives in with her husband the Marquis to know that it would have to be pretty daunting to outdo the sexual nastiness and murderous intent of this woman's husband. Without ruining anything I'll just say that the finale is satisfying and journey there is one I'm glad I took. As with all such Franco works your mileage will vary.

Severin's Blu-Ray has a couple of significant extras too. A brief interview piece with Franco in which he talks about the ladies loves of his life. This was touching, warm conversation and brought a tear to my eyes. I miss old Uncle Jess. The other extra is an excellent 22 minute talk from author Stephen Thrower discussing Franco's work and this film in particular. As always, Thrower is entertaining and incredibly informative making this extra worth the price of the disc for fans.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Retro-Futuristic Art From the Past

Man. The future used to be so much more cool. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Sunday, January 06, 2019

José Larraz's SYMPTOMS (1974)

Director José Larraz is best known for his incredible erotic lesbian vampire film VAMPYRES (1974) but anyone coming to SYMPTOMS (1974) expecting a similar blood-soaked nudity parade from the great man's most prolific period is going to end up disappointed. While this film does have a comparable atmosphere to the sexy vampire tale it is much more of a slow burn character study. The horror elements are present and accounted for but the deliberate journey to the third act revelations is a big part of the joy.

This is a film that takes it's time doling out details but is never boring for several reasons. First is that the two main actors are very talented ladies who are able to communicate paragraphs of emotion with their faces. Lorna Heilbron plays Anne who has come to stay for a few days with her friend Helen in her English country house getaway. Helen is played by Angela Pleasance and in many ways this is her film. The mystery that unfolds carefully over the movie's 91 minutes centers on her past romantic relationship that appears to have gone bad. Anne is trying to get her mind in order after breaking up with the man in her life while Helen seems drawn to her friend in an increasingly needy if not obsessive way. Patterned on Polanski's REPULSION (1965) this is a carefully told tale of pain and madness that spirals out of control. It rests on excellent performances from the leads with smart help from the legendary Peter Vaughn as the house's groundskeeper who knows just enough to get himself into harm's way.

But the second reason the film is so captivating is now only possible to evaluate because of the recent Blu-Ray release from Mondo Macabro. The way most Euro-Cult fans have seen SYMPTOMS for decades has been through a dupey bootleg VHS print that was barely watchable. This HD release allows us, for the first time, to see the glorious cinematography on display! Director of Photography Trevor Wrenn shoots the large house, the woods surrounding it and the nearby lake with the eye of a painter. Almost ever scene holds multiple moments of stunning beauty captured perfectly. This is a gorgeous movie and the careful framing and lighting adds immeasurably to the mesmerizing nature of the whole experience. There are shots that could be printed and hug on gallery walls for the admiration of the general public and they are all in service of this fascinating little horror-drama. I find it hard to believe that a man as clearly talented as Mr Wrenn only shot one other film for Larraz before ending his cinematography career. 

Needless to say I highly recommend seeing the MM Blu of this film if possible. Go in with the understanding of the slow build quality of the narrative and the revelations and shocks that come later will be all the more powerful.

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Lost Giger Bat-Mobile

I consider Joel Schumacher to be one of the worst directors Hollywood has every handed a $100 million film budget. Even the one film he had a hand in that I enjoyed (PHONE BOOTH) felt as if he was trying to find a way to screw it up from the opening minutes. Thankfully the Larry Cohen script was tight enough to keep him from sabotaging the story and it remains a taut little thriller.  But I am happy to find that not every idea he ever had was crap, although they might not have made it to the screen.

When Schumacher was tapped to take over the Batman series in the mid-90's he commissioned the mad genius H. R. Giger to redesign the Batmoble. Yes! The man responsible for countless nightmares because of the monster he built for ALIEN (1979) was given a shot at creating in the world of Batman! What an idea! Of course, it didn't fly with the filmmakers and was dropped at concept stage allowing Schumacher to go ahead and create a truly crappy film that made enough money for him to helm an even worse Bat-film afterward. Giger's designs certainly would not have guarantied a better film than BATMAN FOREVER (1995) - we're talking about a director with incredibly poor cinema sensibilities - but it would have added some spice to Schumacher's neon-splashed mess. A shame and a missed opportunity.