Sunday, April 29, 2007


Two recent theatrical viewings have made me think about the art of film criticism. I will state upfront that I don’t consider myself a film critic so much as a guy who loves movies. I like to watch them and then talk about them afterwards. It ain’t science and it may not be art but I likes it! But my lack of pretension about critiquing movies does not keep me from reading real paid-for-their-opinion writers both online and in print. Often I find my own perceptions about films to be out of alignment with the general consensus and no more so than with the horror genre. Without going into detail I find that horror is still looked down upon by the majority of film writers. It often seems horror is seen as the deformed bastard stepchild the industry keeps around because it knows how to scare money out of the kids. So I went to see these two movies with the foreknowledge that one was frowned on and the other was given a congratulatory pat on the head.

Of course it was the horror movie that got the crappy reviews. And strangely both movies are essentially remakes of older, better films.

THE REAPING tells the story of a university professor and former priest (Hillary Swank) who spends her time traveling around the world debunking miracles. She gave up her faith years before after a terrible incident in Africa that robbed her of her family. She is contacted by a teacher from the small bayou town of Haven to disprove what locals think is a reoccurrence of the Biblical plague of blood. When Swank and her colleague arrive in the town they encounter hostility from the residents and more events that appear to replicate the rest of the 10 plagues of Egypt.

Structured exactly like the classic THE WICKER MAN the film follows that template carefully but manages to add some twists of its own. It’s not a great movie but its triumphs are better than its failures. I feared it would succumb to PG-13-itis and wuss out as the climax approached but I was happily surprised. The filmmakers actually had the balls to pull the trigger on some very rough stuff including child murder, ritual human sacrifice and other bloody deeds. And even though it ends up stroking the ego of Christians as a whole it paints a dark picture of religion with good and evil as a balancing act that must be maintained. I think the point when most mainstream critics (and unadventurous viewers) turn against THE REAPING is when the supernatural elements start kicking into gear. So just about the time the movie really starts to surprise me I would bet most folks sneer. It’s a shame because it’s at this point that the film takes a brilliant turn and becomes a real horror film. By the time the locusts arrive and begin killing folks in hideous bug fashion a line has been crossed and there is no longer a way to rationally explain events. That can be a great moment in a well done horror film and this one hits it. It’s far from perfect but it is a solid 2 & ½ star film and quite enjoyable for genre fans. For others, I would guess less so.

The second theatrical viewing of the week was DISTURBIA. This film is getting generally good reviews and I think they’re deserved. Immediately identifiable as REAR WINDOW lite it tells the story of teenager Kale (Shia Labeouf) being sentenced to three months of home incarceration for a violent outburst at school. Held in place by an electronic anklet he can’t venture further than his own suburban yard without drawing the wraith of the police for the entire summer. Initially defiant he begins to go a little stir crazy once his mother limits his entertainment possibilities and begins to watch his neighbors as a diversion. This is made more interesting when a new family moves in next door with a beautiful teenage daughter who is fond of the house’s swimming pool. But just as Kale begins to make contact with the young lady he notices that another neighbor might have a connection to a series of murders in the nearby city. Indeed, this older man’s actions seem very questionable even if our Peeping Tom can’t nail down anything verifiable. He eventually resorts to using his best friend and that pretty girl next door to investigate things and the situation gets trickier and more dangerous until Kale’s mother is pulled in as well.

Although a little light this is a well told story with not a single misstep. The movie is paced well with just enough information about our main character to get us on his side and be drawn into the mystery across the street. The young cast does a very good job the and the script is smart in its slow build always holding strictly to what can be seen from Kale’s vantage point. The suspense grows as more info trickles in and even the conflicts with the boy’s mother and an emotional clash between the burgeoning teenage couple serve to amp up the tension. If the film has a flaw it’s that it seems a little too derivative of its obvious source- almost a remake done for the kids. I think that Hitchcock would have found a way to give the story a little more heft by making the danger more visceral but this is still good. It just could have been better. Regardless, the movie is sure footed and the tense final 20 minutes are quite gripping. And I should mention that David Morse turns in a fine performance as the possible murderer hiding in pleasant suburbia. He’s able to say volumes with the almost mechanical twitch of his mouth into an insincere smile.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I’ve been reading about THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (a.k.a. THE LAST DESIRE) for years without ever setting eyes on a copy. If my recollections are right Sinister Cinema has been selling a copy for years but Video Watchdog has warned that it was the cut down American import version. I know of no DVD release of it anywhere in the world so again my lack of patience rears its ugly head and its bootleg time once more.

I’m not sure if the print I have is uncut but I kept a watchful eye and I couldn’t find any big plot jumps or story gaps in evidence. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things missing but I’m hoping it was complete. It certainly seemed whole and it definitely lives up to its good reputation.

Of course the reason I first became interested in this one was because of Paul Nacshy’s role as a rich jerk who likes his guns. Nacshy was a hired man on this film having no input on the script but I like to think he could spot a good thing when he saw it. That he had worked with director Leon Klimovsky before is a good indicator of why he might have had confidence in the film. This is a solid piece of apocalyptic science fiction in the vein of ON THE BEACH with a bit of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and a few other better known end-of the-world thrillers. Its very well paced and smartly played with the story carefully whittling down the mostly unsympathetic characters until two of the least hateful …….but then I shouldn’t give too much away. It’s quite good and for fans of these kinds of doomsday tales it is highly recommended.

I’ll give a brief synopsis. A group of wealthy folks gather for their annual weekend of hedonistic De Sade inspired debauchery at a secluded castle. Owned by one of the decadent group it sports a large set of underground catacombs in which the participants drink, drug and fornicate themselves into a stupor. But this year’s festivities are just getting started when a large boom sounds outside the place rattling the buildings foundations. When they investigate they find that everyone above ground at the time of the far off nuclear blast is blind from the flash. Realizing that they can wait out the eventual fallout in the catacombs they quickly ride down to the nearest town for supplies to discover that the entire town’s population is blind. A stupid bit of arrogance from one of the sighted people causes a violent outburst and the wealthy have to retreat quickly. From there on it’s just a question of who will survive and how.

Suitably downbeat and very engrossing I found this film to be one of the best of its type. Indeed I’d go so far as to call it a near classic and after a re-watch soon I may think better of it. This is a little seen gem that really deserves to be discovered by genre fans.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


In celebration of the release of the Bava Box Set of five of his films here is the excellent trailer for THE MASK OF SATAN a.k.a. BLACK SUNDAY. Is this his greatest film?

Sunday, April 15, 2007


I finally got to see Paul Naschy’s HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE this weekend. I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time and I have to say it did not disappoint. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Naschy’s films for years and have tracked down quite a number of the Spanish Lon Chaney’s output. Luckily several of his monster/horror films have become available on Region 1 DVD in the past couple of years making my goal of eventually seeing all of his work a bit easier. Word is that BCI is going to release this one possibly later this year but I obtained a bootleg of the Japanese VHS because patience is not one of my stronger attributes. Wanna see it NOW, thank you.

I’d heard HUNCHBACK was a fine slab of Euro-Trash cinema and boy howdy- is it! Deformed men, beautiful ladies, a mad scientist, rotting corpses, ancient torture devices, a shambling monster and a deadly acid pit are front and center. Throw in angry townspeople, an unbelievable love scene and burning rats and you have a damned fine piece of entertainment! MAN! I love this movie!

As usual Naschy co-wrote the script as well as starring as the titular hunchback, a poor, sad soul named Wolfgang Gotho. Simple minded and naturally gentle he endures the cruel ridicule of medical students and doctors making fun of him as he goes about his job in the hospital’s morgue. The only bright spots in his life are his daily visits to his childhood friend Elsa who is slowly dying of what appears to be tuberculosis. Gotho is finally pushed to violence when a group of interns insult Elsa and although their fight is stopped he later tracks them down in the night and kills them. Vengeance thy name is Gotho!
Complicating things considerably is that after Elsa dies Gotho believes that she can be revived. He steals her body from the morgue and hides it in some hidden catacombs originally used by the Inquisition to torture sinners. He then goes to Doctor Orla (a suitably crazed Alberto Dalbes) who has been working for years on the reanimation of dead tissue. Orla is thrilled with the hidden location as the hospital has cut off funding for his experiments and he must continue them in secret. The doc lies to Gotho about the possibility of bringing Elsa back to life to get his help and then embarks on his biggest project yet- the creation of a living creature from scratch.

As with most of Naschy’s scripts this is a sometimes uncomfortable mix of pathos, gore, madness, horror and gothic images. Everything in Naschy-land is driven by either epic emotions or creeping madness and sometimes both in conjunction. At his worst his stories are painfully simplistic but at his best he can strike universal (or Universal) chords that bring life to his monsters. Here he mostly manages the latter even though the film suffers from the standard flaw of atrocious, often stilted dialog. In general I’d like to credit the awful English dubbing to someone other than Naschy but I’m not sure. I’d love to have someone re-dub big chunks of this baby to smooth over awkward scenes that would play wonderfully with just a slight tweak in a few places. But maybe that would ruin the atmosphere of the piece. Perhaps it could destroy the elements I find so endearing leaving behind a technically better film but a less enjoyable one.

Hell! We’ll never know. I’m just glad we have it. Now bring on the deluxe special edition Region 1 DVD.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

This should have been the greatest film of all time

I mean really. Look at that monster. And its on Mars!

It's still kind of fun in a 1950s strange-ass science fiction way.

But man!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Possibly the funniest thing I have ever seen.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Re-viewing Bond- GOLDENEYE (1995)

It’s a rare thing for my opinion to change about a movie. Only in a handful of cases have I returned to a film I disliked on initial viewing and realized that I was completely wrong in my first reaction. Such is the case with GOLDENEYE which I saw last on its opening weekend in 1995 and have hated ever since. I can pinpoint the moment when the film pissed me off clearly and that particular moment still irritates. But I can see now that the rest of the movie is actually very good. The moment where the film lost me that first time was what by this time in the series had become the standard ‘stupid, impossible action bit’. You know! That one little thing in so many Bond films that makes you roll your eyes going “Give me a break’. A few of the Moore films have so many of these moments that they become jokes that can in no way be taken seriously. Even some of the better ones have these moments and as a fan you just have to grit your teeth and accept them to enjoy the ride. Or maybe not.

But in this case I simply could not accept that Bond could magically will himself to fall faster than a prop plane in flight. This happens at the very end of the otherwise well done pre-credits sequence in which 007 and 006 (Sean Bean) break into a Russian chemical warfare factory. As Bond makes his solo escape the plane in question is flying under power straight down and Bond clearly leaves the cliff face well after it dipped toward the ground below. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of physics can tell you that there is no way for an object to fall faster than another object especially if the first object is powering away from the second. This is simply impossible. What made it even more irritating was I could immediately see a way for them to have staged this action scene that wouldn’t have been so freakin’ stupid. Why not just have Bond reach the side of the plane just as it tips over the edge and begins its crash dive? He would then have to pull his way down the side of fuselage as it plummets toward the ground to get inside and wrestle the plane’s controls to save himself. That’s an exciting scene just on paper and it wouldn’t have made me go ‘Yeah, Right!’.

Of course, I have to accept that most Bond fans have loved this film from the day it opened. I guess I let the stupid opening scene taint the rest of the movie for me but GOLDENEYE is still not a perfect 007 film. The love scene still feels like it was airlifted in from another movie, the Joe Don Baker scenes are less than inspired, the moment when the statue rides along on top of the tank is asinine and the way Bond meets the female baddie played by Famke Janssen is silly. I still think that most fans were just so happy to have Bond back after a six year hiatus that they would have been happy with anything. Even a film as bad as DIE ANOTHER DAY!

Still- GOLDENEYE is actually a pretty damned good Bond film overall. So I now go from thinking Brosnan had only one decent 007 adventure to thinking he managed to eke out a 50% batting average. It’s a shame really as old Pierce was a damned good Bond.

I’m glad I revisited this one.