Wednesday, December 1, 2021

#2,670. Waltz with Bashir (2008)


A stunning yet ultimately disturbing animated documentary, Waltz with Bashir is more than a war movie; it is a journey into the mind.

In 1982, when he was 19 years old, Ari Folman (the film’s writer / director) was in the Israeli military, and served as an infantryman during the war in Lebanon. For years, his memory of this time period has been hazy, but when his old friend Boaz (voiced by Miki Leon) relates the story of a recurring nightmare he’s had since serving in Lebanon, Folman himself experiences a dream about the war that he cannot explain, and wonders if it has something to do with the Sabra and Shatila Massacres, for which he was present, yet remembers nothing.

In an effort to trigger his memory, Folman visits with fellow veterans of that war, hoping their stories will somehow help him recall what his mind seemingly wants him to forget.

Though it paints a harrowing picture of warfare (the skirmishes can be tense and unflinchingly violent) Waltz With Bashir is more effective as a human drama, an exploration of how a soldier’s mind can alter, manipulate, even suppress painful memories as a means of coping with the trauma of battle. Shmuel Frenkel (voiced by himself) served in the same unit as Folman, and while talking with him one day, Folman is surprised to find that he has completely forgotten an incident involving a young Palestinian boy, who was shot dead after firing on them with an RPG.

All this, combined with a number of memorable sequences (the opening scene, a visual representation of Boaz’s dream in which 26 angry dogs run through the streets of Tel Aviv, is especially intense); an intriguing mystery at its center; and a (non-animated) ending that will shake you to your core, does its part to ensure that Waltz with Bashir will stay with you long after it is over.

It is unlike any animated film I have ever seen before.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, November 29, 2021

#2,669. The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966)


The Cold War may be over, but the laughs in this 1966 Norman Jewison comedy are timeless!

A Russian submarine has accidentally run aground near a small Island in New England. The sub’s Captain (Theodore Bikel) sends nine of his men, including Lt. Yuri Rozanov (Alan Arkin) and sailor Alexei Kolchin (John Philip Law), on a reconnaissance mission to locate a powerboat big enough to tow them out to sea. Stopping first at the home of writer Walt Whittaker (Carl Reiner) and his wife Elspeth (Eva Marie Saint), the Russians then make their way into the nearby town.

Unfortunately, the Russian patrol next encounters postmistress Muriel Everett (Doro Merande), who alerts switchboard operator Alice Foss (Tessie O’Shea) that the Russians have invaded! Alice immediately calls police chief Link Matthews (Brian Keith), who, though skeptical, tells her to contact his deputy Norman (Jonathan Winters) and a couple of others.

Of course, being the town gossip, Alice can’t help but spread the news that the Russians have invaded, and before long everyone has gathered in the town center, determined to defend their homeland.

The cast assembled for The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming may not be as star-studded as Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but it isn’t far behind. Along with those already mentioned, the movie features Paul Ford as a gung-ho ex-military officer who assumes control of the civilian “militia” and former silent star Ben Blue as the town drunk.

The entire cast gets in on the fun; Reiner generates his share of laughs as Walt Whittaker, the first to encounter the Russians and the only one who realizes they aren’t a threat, while Alan Arkin shines as the Soviet officer besieged on all sides by panicky Americans. There’s also a sweet romantic subplot, in which John Philip Law’s Alexei falls for the Whittaker’s babysitter, Alison (played by newcomer Andrea Dromm), and the final showdown between the submarine and the townsfolk has a surprising - albeit very satisfying - conclusion.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Saturday, November 27, 2021

#2,668. Sweet Charity (1969)


Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity is a grand and glorious musical / comedy, a supreme piece of entertainment starring Shirley MacLaine as the title character, a New York dance hall girl named Charity Hope Valentine.

Poor Charity has never been lucky in love; in the opening scene she is mugged by her boyfriend Charlie (Dante D'Paulo), who grabs her purse and then pushes Charity into a lake in Central Park. Still, Charity’s life is never dull. At one point, she even spends an evening hanging out with Italian movie star Vittorio (Ricardo Montalban).

Charity’s best friends Nickie (Chita Rivera) and Helene (Paula Kelly), who work alongside her at the dance hall, tell Charity that she needs to keep her head out of the clouds. But Charity believes strongly in the power of positive thinking, and is convinced Mr. Right is out there, just waiting to be found.

“Mr. Right” does eventually materialize in the form of an incredibly nervous insurance adjuster named Oscar (John McMartin). After a few weeks together, Oscar tells Charity that he can’t live without her, but will his opinion of his new girlfriend change once he realizes what she does for a living?

Bob Fosse infuses Sweet Charity with style to spare; damn near every scene offers something fresh and exciting (the entire sequence with Vittorio - which includes a late dinner inside his luxury apartment - is a visual feast). In addition, the musical sequences in Sweet Charity are out of this world. MacLaine’s rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, which she sings throughout her platonic date with Vittorio, is wonderful, yet my favorite number is “Hey Big Spender”, in which Charity’s co-workers at the dance hall try to entice a new customer.

Shirley MacLaine is bubbly as all hell in the lead role, and you can’t help but root for this oft-naïve character as she scours the city in search of her soulmate. Also strong are Rivera and Kelly as the down-to-earth pals, while McMartin is quirky and likable as Charity’s significant other. Yet as good as the main cast is, it's Sammy Davis Jr., appearing briefly as an incredibly hip Reverend, who steals the show.

Based on Fosse’s own hit Broadway play (which was, in turn, inspired by the screenplay for Federico Fellini’s classic movie Nights of Cabiria), Sweet Charity is very much a product of the 1960’s (from the costumes right down to the lingo), yet its entertainment value is timeless. Give Sweet Charity a chance, and I bet you’ll love it as much as I do!
Rating: 10 out of 10

Thursday, November 25, 2021

#2,667. Unhinged (2020)


The very idea of road rage makes me uneasy; the fact is you never know who is driving the car next to you, or what they’re capable of, so it’s never a good idea to intentionally piss any driver off, for any reason.

And as we discover in director Derrick Borte’s intense 2020 thriller Unhinged, it might not take much to push that other driver over the edge.

Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is having a bad day. For starters, her lawyer and best friend Andy (Jimmi Simpson) has informed Rachel that her ex-husband Richard (voiced by Andrew Morgado) wants sole ownership of the house they once shared. If that isn’t bad enough, she’s late getting out the door, which - along with making her son Kyle (Gabriel Bateman) late for school a third time - results in her being fired by her most important client. Then, to top it off, she has an altercation with another driver (Russell Crowe) at a red light, who is none too happy when she refuses to apologize for her actions.

And if this man has anything to say about it, Rachel’s day is about to get a whole lot worse!

We know from the opening scene that Crowe’s character is out of control; also recently divorced, he breaks into his former house, murders his ex-wife and her lover, then burns it to the ground. Unfortunately, Rachel doesn’t know this, and by the time she realizes she has crossed the wrong person, it’s already too late. The lengths to which this guy goes to get back at Rachel will have you on the edge of your seat (as if the opening sequence wasn’t enough to clue us in on his state of mind, there’s a crazy scene at a gas station that proves he’s lost all control).

Unhinged never lets up; both director Borte and the film’s writer, Carl Ellsworth, keep the tension at a fever pitch throughout, filling the movie with one W-T-F moment after another (there’s an insane sequence involving Crowe’s psychopath and Rachel’s brother Fred, played by Austin P. McKenzie, yet even this is merely a precursor for what’s to come). Pistorius is strong as the frenzied Rachel, yet it’s Russell Crowe who delivers the film’s most intense performance, playing what is easily the darkest character he’s portrayed since 1992’s Romper Stomper.

And it’s because of him that Unhinged is guaranteed to shake you.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

#2,666. The Epic of Everest (1924)


This documentary, shot on-location by Captain John Noel, is a filmed record of the now-infamous 1924 British Mount Everest expedition, during which mountaineers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine disappeared without a trace.

Relying heavily on intertitles, The Epic of Everest offers a full account of the journey, tagging along with the explorers when they entered the village of Phari-Dzong on the border of the Tibetan Plateau before making their way to Everest itself, where the British adventurers set up several campsites and made three different attempts to reach the summit, a height of almost 29,000 feet (8,800+ meters). The third and final attempt ended tragically when Mallory and Irvine never returned, and were presumed dead (their disappearance sparked a debate that raged for decades, with many wondering whether or not they became the first men to reach the summit before perishing).

The Epic of Everest is mostly a dry, straightforward account of the expedition; the opening shots of Mount Everest, interspersed with title cards that wax poetic about nature and the indomitable spirit of man, run on far too long, and the scenes in Phari-Dzong, though interesting, aren’t exactly kind to the indigenous population (one title card in particular referred to the fact that the locals never bathed). As for the expedition itself, a majority of the sequences were shot from a distance away, and feature little more than the explorers walking to and from their base camps.

Yet as routine as the first hour or so is, the final third of The Epic of Everest will have you on the edge of your seat. The most stirring scene occurs when Noel’s camera, shooting up the mountain, spots Mallory and Irvine high atop Everest, some 4,000 feet away, the last time anyone would see them alive.

Ultimately, the true miracle of The Epic of Everest is that it exists at all, recording for posterity a historic event, and ensuring that George Mallory, Sandy Irvine, and the entire 1924 expedition will never be forgotten.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Sunday, November 21, 2021

#2,665. Blue Crush (2002)


I know I’ve said it before, but I’m a sucker for surf movies, and even a by-the-numbers sports drama like Blue Crush offers enough to satisfy this particular craving.

Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) is a promising young surfer whose career stalled a few years back when she almost drowned. Now entered in the Pipeline, one of Hawaii’s most dangerous surf contests, Anne Marie, with the help of best friends Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake), is in training for the big event.

But with an absentee mother, the would-be surfer finds herself caretaker of a troublesome younger sister (Mika Boorem), and a whirlwind romance with NFL quarterback Matt Tollman (Matthew Davis) has Anne Marie rethinking her priorities.

It’s a standard Hollywood story (with an ending that’s even more so), but director John Stockwell manages to capture the energy and excitement of big-wave surfing, and the hip-hop soundtrack only adds to the intensity of it all (an early montage, set to Blestenation’s update of Bananarama’s "Cruel Summer", is especially memorable).

It may not be unique, but Blue Crush hit the spot, and has me jonesing for summer to return!
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Friday, November 19, 2021

#2,664. George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)


Written and directed by his son, George Stevens Jr., George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey is a detailed biography of - and a loving tribute to - one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors, the mastermind behind such classics as A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Cinephiles are sure to get a kick out of the rare, behind-the-scenes color footage taken on the set of 1939’s Gunga Din (photographed by Stevens himself) but it’s the sequences detailing the acclaimed filmmakers’ service in World War II (he filmed the massive landing on D-Day) and his defense of colleagues during the McCarthy era that truly stand out.

But more than anything, George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey is a time capsule of old Hollywood, featuring interviews with (among others) Katherine Hepburn, Frank Capra, Cary Grant. Joel McCrae, and John Huston, all recounting the glory days of Tinseltown and one of the men that made them so memorable.

If you love movies as much as I do, you’ll adore this documentary!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

#2,663. Edward II (1991)


A postmodern take on Christopher Marlowe’s classic Elizabethan play, Director Derek Jarmon’s Edward II transforms one of England’s most tragic figures - the Plantagenet king Edward II - into an advocate for gay rights.

Following the death of his father, Edward II (Steven Waddington) ascends the throne of England, and his first act is to recall his friend and lover Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan), who had been exiled.

Once back in England, Gaveston exacts revenge on those who supported his banishment, and in so doing angers many of the King’s advisors, including the militant Mortimer (Nigel Terry), who conspires with Edward’s neglected Queen, Isabella (Tilda Swinton), to depose the king and gain control of the realm.

Lifting dialogue straight out of Marlowe’s play while at the same time setting the story in modern day England, Jarmon lets his imagination run wild, utilizing sparse set pieces (to put the focus squarely on the characters) and even inserting a very cool musical sequence into the mix (Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics appears as herself, singing Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” as Edward and Gaveston dance together in the background).

Throughout Edward II, Jarmon remains faithful to Marlowe’s depiction of Edward while also shining a light on homophobia, a hot-button issue as prevalent today as it was in 1991. With strong performances all around and a clever approach to the material, Jarmon’s Edward II is not to be missed.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, November 15, 2021

#2,662. Skin Walker (2019)


There are a handful of actors who - when I see their names in the credits - get me so giddy that I can’t wait to watch their movie. Udo Kier (Mark of the Devil, Shadow of the Vampire) is one of them. Even if the film itself isn’t that great (I’m looking at you, Mother of Tears), I usually enjoy Kier’s performance.

Case in point is writer / director Christain Neuman’s Skin Walker.

Skin Walker is not a good movie. In fact, I don’t know if it’s a “movie” at all; it’s more a collection of random sequences, strung together in no particular order, and even by that standard it’s an incoherent muddle.

Regine (Amber Anderson) returns home to attend the funeral of her much-despised grandmother (Marja-Leena Junker). After a brief but tense reunion with her father (Kier), she finds herself dealing with the traumas of her past, including the death of her deformed half-brother Isaac.

But the deeper Regine delves into her family’s secrets, the more unstable she becomes.

Told entirely from Regine’s perspective (and, minor spoiler, she’s as nutty as a fruit cake), Skin Walker is a psychological horror film, but as I stated earlier, there’s zero structure here; what starts out as slightly confusing evolves into “What-the-hell-am-I-watching” insanity by the halfway point.

It’s a shame, too, because the performances are decent and the production design, as well as Neuman’s stylistic approach to the material, is at times amazing (the sets, coupled with the occasionally jarring camera movements, are what kept my interest).

In the end, though, Skin Walker was just too befuddling to be worth the 87 minutes it demanded.
Rating: 4 out of 10

Saturday, November 13, 2021

#2,661. Snatchers (2019)


In 1996’s Scream, movie aficionado Randy (played by Jamie Kennedy) laid out the basic rules for surviving a horror film, the first of which was “Don’t have sex”. It’s sage advice; in most ‘80s slasher flicks, the characters that did the nasty often ended up on the wrong side of a machete.

But not even Randy could have predicted the insanity that occurs in 2019’s Snatchers when high school student Sara (Mary Nepi) has sex with her boyfriend Skyler (Austin Fryberger). In a bizarre turn of events, Sara discovers the very next day that she’s pregnant. In fact, she’s so pregnant that, a mere 24 hours after sleeping with Skylar, she goes into labor!

Clearly, there’s something otherworldly at play here, and with the help of her former best friend Haley (Gabrielle Elyse), Sara hopes to get out of this mess before her doting mother (J.J. Nolan) catches wind of it. But when Sara gives birth to a giant insect, it sets in motion a series of events that may ultimately destroy her home town, and maybe even the world!

A fun, funny sci-fi / horror mash-up co-directed by Stephen Cedars and Benji Kleiman (both of whom also penned the screenplay), Snatchers features lots of snappy dialogue (filled to its breaking point with teen slang) and some truly impressive practical effects (especially late in the film, when we finally discover what’s really going on).

Occasionally crude yet also kind of endearing, Snatchers was an absolute blast!
Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, November 11, 2021

#2,660. Dracula (1979)


John Badham’s Dracula is, without question, the most romantic of all the movies inspired by Bram Stoker’s famous tale. 

Like 1931’s Dracula, this version was based more on the 1924 stage play than the novel itself, and stars Frank Langella as the Transylvanian Dark Prince, who, as the movie opens, has just arrived in Whitby, England. 

After moving his belongings (a few coffins filled with earth) into the dilapidated Carfax Abbey, Count Dracula introduces himself to his neighbor, Dr. Jack Seward (Donald Pleasance), caretaker of the local asylum. Residing with Dr. Seward in his clifftop mansion are his daughter, Lucy (Kate Nelligan), and Lucy’s sickly friend Mina Van Helsing (Jan Francis). 

Soon after Dracula’s arrival in Whitby, Mina falls critically ill and dies. Upon hearing the news, Mina’s father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) visits Dr. Seward, and discovers that his daughter’s death was caused not by disease, but by Dracula, a vampire. 

What’s more, if they don’t act quickly, it’s quite possible that Lucy will be the Count’s next victim. 

Langella is suave and oh-so charming as the title character, making it easy to see why women are attracted to him. In addition, Langella’s Dracula is more of a tragic figure; the famous line about the “Children of the night” is altered slightly in this telling, with the Count observing not how “beautiful” their “music” is, but how “sad” it sounds. 

The supporting cast, led by Sir Laurence Olivier (who was very ill at the time), is also quite good, and the production design is top-notch (the gothic set pieces are beyond impressive). And while this Dracula may not be as consistently horrific as other versions, Badham and company do throw in the occasional eerie scene (Van Helsing’s run-in with his daughter in the catacombs is especially creepy).
Rating: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

#2,659. The Devil's Advocate (1997)


Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate is a downright seductive motion picture, enticing its audience with smart dialogue, fascinating characters, extraordinary performances, and a pace that’s as crisp as they come. 

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a lawyer from Gainesville, Florida. A former prosecutor and current defense attorney, he’s never lost a case. Not one. And that perfect record catches the attention of John Milton (Al Pacino), the most powerful lawyer - and one of the most powerful men - in New York City. 

Milton offers Kevin a job, and before the young go-getter knows what’s hit him, both he and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) are living in a luxury apartment with a great view of the city. 

 Even in New York, Kevin proves unbeatable, but Mary Ann senses something is wrong with the entire set-up, and that Milton is not who he seems to be. As for Kevin, he’s too busy raking in the cash to notice anything out of the ordinary. That is, until his world starts crashing down around him. 

Al Pacino is brilliant as the charismatic Milton, a guy with more than a few dark secrets, but I was really impressed with Keanu Reeves’ turn as the hotshot lawyer who, over the course of the movie, goes from “up-and-coming” to “already arrived”. The supporting cast (especially Theron as the confused wife and Connie Nielson as Kevin’s sexy co-worker) is also strong, and the courtroom scenes, even when they’re brief (which many are), have an undeniable energy to them. 

A first-rate thriller that dabbles in horror, The Devil’s Advocate is top-notch entertainment.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Sunday, November 7, 2021

#2,658. Once Bitten (1985)


Once Bitten is so damn goofy, but at the same time it’s also kind of endearing. 

Nine years before he rose to superstardom in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber, Jim Carrey played Mark Kendall, a sexually frustrated high schooler whose pretty but chaste girlfriend Robin (Karen Kopins) refuses to put out. One night, his two pals Jamie (Thomas Ballatore) and Russ (Skip Lackey) convince Mark to try his luck at a singles bar, where he’s picked up by a gorgeous blonde known only as “The Countess” (Lauren Hutton). 

What Mark doesn’t know is that The Countess is a 400-year-old vampire who, according to tradition, must drink the blood of a virgin three separate times before All Hallow’s Eve. And unfortunately for him, Mark is the guy she’s chosen to be her next Halloween snack! 

The comedy in Once Bitten is often sophomoric (think a mediocre TV sitcom), though I did laugh out loud at the locker room shower scene, where Jamie and Russ try to “examine” Mark for a possible bite on his inner thigh. In addition, Carrey shows flashes of his future brilliance (especially late in the movie, when he begins to “change”), and Hutton makes for a very sexy vampire. In fact, the scenes featuring Hutton and her effeminate servant Sebastain (played by the always great Cleavon Little) are my favorite in the film, and the energy dips noticeably whenever The Countess isn’t on-screen. 

As vampire comedies go, I still prefer Love at First Bite to Once Bitten, but this 1985 offering isn’t without its charms.
Rating: 6 out of 10

Friday, November 5, 2021

#2,657. Damnation (1988)



That is the word that continuously pops into my head as I sit here reflecting on director Bela Tarr’s 1988 black and white film Damnation. Yet there are aspects of the movie that are anything but beautiful.

Set in an unspecified Hungarian town - a working-class city littered with dingy bars and urban decay - the story that makes up Damnation (what there is of a story, anyway) centers on a lonely guy named Karrer (Miklós Székely B.), who has fallen in love with another man’s wife: a mournful lounge singer (Vali Kerekes) who performs nightly at the Titanik Bar, one of several that Karrer frequents on a regular basis. After arranging to get the singer’s husband (György Cserhalmi) out of town for a few days, Karrer makes his move.

From this simple premise, Tarr has crafted a singularly unique motion picture, one that utilizes long, uninterrupted shots which first establish a setting (a night club, a bedroom, a rain-soaked street, etc), then, by way of the meticulous manner in which Tarr moves his camera (and it is almost always in motion), takes us deeper into each scene to expose so much more (we often hear noises in the background, the source of which is only revealed when Tarr and his camera go searching).

The dialogue is introspective, designed not so much to further the story as to divulge each character’s state of mind (“I like the rain”, the singer tells Karrer at one point, “I like to watch the water run down the window. It calms me down. I don't think about anything. I just watch the rain”), and the dreary locales (the Titanik is dimly lit, and Karrer’s abode is situated next to a coal mine), coupled with the stark cinematography of Gábor Medvigy, set a melancholy tone that never lets up.

Damnation is, without question, an arthouse film, and it is a thoroughly engaging one.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

#2,656. Love Express: The Disappearance of Walerian Borowczyk (2018)


It was 1978’s Behind Convent Walls that introduced me to the movies of Walerian Borowczyk, and I was instantly hooked. Both The Beast and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne strengthened my respect for the filmmaker, who skillfully blended such time-honored genres as comedy, drama, and romance with pure, unadulterated erotica.

Love Express is a 2018 documentary that delves into the great director’s work, from his early days in animation (shorts that inspired, among others, Terry Gilliam and Neil Jordan, both of whom are interviewed in this movie) to his output in the 1980s, by which point he had been branded a sleaze merchant (he was hired to direct Emmanuelle V, but walked off the set following an argument with an actress).

Borowczyk’s penchant for the erotic would ultimately be his downfall; with The Beast a box-office sensation, producers hounded him to include nudity and sex in every film going forward, while others refused to hire him because of his reputation as a smut peddler. To watch this movie is to see that Walerian Borowczyk was so much more than the cinematic community gave him credit for, and when left to his own vision, was capable of producing greatness.

Featuring clips, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with those who worked with and admired Barowczyk, Love Express stands as a testament to his abilities as a filmmaker, and a tragic account of a talent that never was permitted to shine as brightly as it could have.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Monday, November 1, 2021

#2,655. Elizabeth (1998)


Elizabeth I, Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, has been portrayed many times on film, including twice by my favorite actress, Bette Davis (1939’s The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and 1955’s The Virgin Queen). 

Yet when I picture Elizabeth in my mind’s eye, she looks exactly like Cate Blanchett, and director Shekhar Kapur’s 1998 movie is the reason why. 

Following the death of her half-sister Mary (Kathy Burke), Elizabeth (Blanchett) ascends the throne and immediately finds herself surrounded by enemies, chief among them the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), who fears the new Queen will return England to the “heretical” Protestant faith. 

Elizabeth’s most trusted advisor, Lord Cecil (Richard Attenborough), insists that she marry the French Duke of Anjou (Vincent Cassel) and produce an heir, despite the fact she is already in love with Lord Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). 

Though protected at all times by Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), who acts as the Queen’s bodyguard, Elizabeth is in constant danger. Will she survive long enough to unify England, or will her enemies win out in the end? 

 Of course, we know the answer to that question: as stated above, Elizabeth reigned for damn near 45 years! Yet thanks to Blanchett’s tender performance and Kapur’s solid direction, the tension in Elizabeth is tangible, and like Walsingham and Lord Cecil we constantly fear for the Queen’s safety (it doesn’t hurt that the always-impressive Eccleston makes for such a formidable foe). 

Alexandra Byrne’s extravagant costumes and Peter Howitt’s set pieces go a long way in making Elizabeth feel authentic, but the film’s power lies in Blanchett’s performance, and the convincing manner in which she transforms “The Virgin Queen” from a demure young girl into a confident, powerful monarch.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, October 31, 2021

#2,654. WNUF Halloween Special (2013)


Directed by Chris LaMartina (with an assist from a handful of others), WNUF Halloween Special is a love letter to both VHS and late ‘80s local television.

Halloween night, 1987; reporter Frank Stewart (Paul Fahrenkopf) of WNUF TV broadcasts live from inside the old Weber house, a supposedly haunted dwelling and a place where two grisly murders occurred twenty years earlier. Accompanied by paranormal experts Louis and Claire Berger (Brian St. August and Helenmary Ball) as well as a Catholic priest (Robert Long II), Stewart and his cameraman make their way through the Weber house in the hopes of capturing an entity for live television.

What they encounter instead will prove much more terrifying.

Designed to look as if it was recorded on VHS back in 1987, WNUF Halloween Special is a horror / comedy that has it all, from cheesy news broadcasts to zero-budget local commercials (I chuckled at damn near every one because I remember seeing similar ads back in the day). While it does feature a few creepy moments when the reporter and his team enter the house, WNUF Halloween Special is more effective as a tribute to a bygone era, and it’s because of this that I had so much fun watching the movie.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, October 30, 2021

#2,653. Hell House LLC (2015)


The brainchild of writer / director Stephen Cognetti, Hell House LLC - a found footage horror movie presented, at times, like a documentary - has moments in it that scared the bejesus out of me. 

It’s been five years since the tragedy at the Abaddon Hotel, where a team of haunted attraction creators from New York City, known as the Hell House Crew, had set up their latest “masterpiece”. After spending several months living in the abandoned hotel, the group, led by Alex (Danny Bellini), opened for business one October night, and it was during this premiere that several still-unexplained deaths and suicides occurred. 

Armed with never-before-seen footage captured by the Hell House team during their stay at the Abaddon, documentary filmmaker Diane Graves (Alice Bahlke) attempts to finally solve the mystery surrounding this terrible tragedy. 

Hell House LLC opens with news clips as well as talking-head interviews, featuring survivors of the ordeal and experts who have studied the case. There’s even a YouTube video captured by one of the patrons that fateful night, which reveals something terrible went down in the basement. All of this works to pull us into the story early on, so by the time we - like Diane Graves - get a look at the videos shot by the Hell House team themselves, we’re as eager as she is to find out what really happened. 

It’s when this footage is revealed, however, that we get a sense of the evil that resides in the Abaddon Hotel, and how it systematically worked on Paul (Gore Abrams), the group’s technical wizard (one scene in particular, when Paul wakes up in the middle of the night, is absolutely terrifying). 

One issue I did have with Hell House LLC was the attraction that the Hell House team had set up; as seen in The Houses October Built, some Halloween haunts can be downright extreme, and by comparison the Hell House attraction looked kinda lame (hanging spiders, strobe lights, mannequin clowns, etc). But no matter; the hotel itself made up for their sub-par efforts; as locations go, the Abaddon set is as eerie as they come (especially the basement). 

A fine example of the found footage subgenre, Hell House LLC is destined to become a Halloween tradition in my house. 
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, October 29, 2021

#2,652. Tales of Halloween (2015)


Like most horror anthologies, Tales of Halloween features a few stories that are stronger than the others, yet not a single one in this 2015 offering missed the mark completely. Containing ten segments (each by a different director) set on Halloween night, Tales of Halloween has it all; ghosts, witches, serial killers, aliens, and even a psychotic pumpkin!

Tying the various sequences together is the great Adrienne Barbeau, playing a radio DJ (an obvious tribute to Stevie Wayne, the character she portrayed in John Carpenter’s The Fog).

Among the more memorable segments are The Night Billy Raised Hell (with Barry Bostwick delivering a hilarious performance as a reclusive old man with a mean streak), The Weak and the Wicked (the most serious of the bunch, about a trio of bullies getting their just desserts), Friday the 31st (a satire of the Friday the 13th movies that takes things one step further), and Bad Seed (a killer pumpkin saga directed by Neil Marshall, who also helmed Dog Soldiers and The Descent).

Throw in a handful of fun cameos (Lin Shaye, Caroline Williams, Barbara Crampton, and director John Landis, just to name a few) and you have a horror / comedy you’ll be itching to watch every time October rolls around.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Thursday, October 28, 2021

#2,651. Jack-O (1995)


It’s easy to pick on a movie like Jack-O. It was made for around $13, which means the effects are bad, the performances (well, most of them) are worse, and there’s about 20 minutes’ worth of story stretched out to an hour and a half. Still, director Steve Latshaw and his crew clearly tried their damnedest to turn nothing into something, so to sit here and repeatedly poke this DOA film with a stick is going to make me feel like a heel.

But I have to do it anyway.

Eighty years ago, Arthur Kelly (Mike Conner) put an evil wizard (John Carradine) to death. Before he died, however, the wizard cursed the entire Kelly clan.

Jump forward to modern times: young Sean Kelly (Ryan Latshaw, the director’s son) is preparing for Halloween night, as are his parents (Gary Doles and Maddison K. Brown), who host an annual haunted attraction in their garage. Unfortunately for them, the Wizard’s curse, in the guise of the Pumpkin Man (Patrick Moran), is ready to exact some revenge!

While most of the actors are less than stellar, Jack-O does feature a few familiar names in the cast; aside from Carradine (in old footage; he died years earlier), there’s Linnea Quigley (as a babysitter), Brinke Stevens (as the star of a movie playing on TV), and Cameron Mitchell (as the horror host showcasing Brinke’s movie), all of whom do their best with what they’re given.

Alas, that’s all I can say in favor of Jack-O. I’ll give Latshaw and producer Fred Olen Ray a B+ for effort, but as a horror flick, Jack-O packs no punch, so it gets a failing grade.
Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

#2,650. The Houses October Built (2014)


A week before Halloween, five friends ( Zack Andrews, Bobby Roe, Brandy Schaefer, Mikey Roe, and Jeff Larson) pile into an RV and head south, in the hopes of finding the most extreme haunted attraction.

Each night, they visit a new haunt, all the while searching for the “Blue Skeleton”, rumored to be the all-time scariest Halloween attraction.

But as the days wear on, the pals begin to suspect that they are being stalked, and wonder if it’s simply part of the overall experience, or something else entirely.

The Houses October Built is a found-footage style horror film (to document their quest, each of the friends operates one of the many cameras they brought along), and the cast does a fine job making the trip and what they encounter feel 100% genuine.

In addition, the haunts they visit are pretty insane (some of them would definitely scare the hell out of me), yet nothing can match the horror these five experience after the haunts, the terror that strikes while they’re relaxing or sitting around discussing the day’s events. Performers from one attraction re-appear outside their RV the next night, hundreds of miles from where the gang left them (one particular run-in, with a girl in a porcelain dolls mask, will send a shiver up your spine), and sometimes they hear what sounds like a person walking on the roof.

Of course, this is all just a precursor for what’s to come, and trust me, you won’t want to miss where this film ultimately goes!

Spooky and effective, The Houses October Built is a movie you should definitely add to your Halloween watch list.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

#2,649. Z (2019)


This movie is creepy as hell!

Beth Parsons (Keegan Connor Tracy) is concerned about her 8-year-old son Josh (Jett Klyne), who has an imaginary friend he calls “Z”. Beth’s husband Kevin (Sean Rogerson) tells her to relax, that Z is just a phase, and child psychologist Dr. Seager (Stephen McHattie) believes Josh will eventually grow out of it.

Over time, Josh’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, forcing Beth to take drastic measures to prove once and for all that Z does not exist. But as she’ll soon discover, there’s more to Josh’s new pal than meets the eye.

Directed by Brandon Christensen (who co-wrote the screenplay with Colin Minihan), Z relies more on atmosphere than it does special effects or jump scares to deliver the thrills. And even at 83 minutes, the film takes its time, slowly developing the characters and their story while also clueing us in on the fact that all is not right in this world (one scene in particular, where Josh has a play date at a friend’s house, is as intense as they come).

Things did get a bit crazy in the final act (and jarringly so), but even these late scenes, as batshit as they were, had their moments.

If you’re in the mood for a unique horror experience, look no further than Z.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Monday, October 25, 2021

#2,648. Crawl (2019)


Director Alexander Aja’s Crawl is a high-octane, action-infused thrill ride, filled with gnarly beasts that generate tension to spare. But unlike other movies of this ilk, Crawl never loses sight of its characters, and their plight is what gives this rollicking creature feature its center, as well as its heart.

College athlete Haley (Kaya Scodelario) drives straight into a Category five hurricane to search for her estranged father (Barry Pepper), who isn’t answering his cell phone. Making her way to the family’s former home in the everglades, she finds her dad - injured and unconscious - lying in a a crawlspace underneath the house.

Unfortunately, he’s not alone; two enormous alligators have also moved in, trapping father and daughter, who now must find a way to escape before the hurricane unleashes its full fury.

The gators in Crawl are positively terrifying, made doubly so by the fact the main characters (and we the audience) seldom know where they are, or when they will strike (Haley’s first encounter with the gators results in several effective jump scares). Toss in a category five hurricane, with raging winds and torrential rains, and you have a situation that grows more desperate by the minute.

Yet what makes the thrills and screams in Crawl so effective are the lead characters, played superbly by Scodelario and Pepper. We immediately sense the tension between the two (Haley remembers all too well how her father pushed her to become a champion swimmer, and resents the fact that he and her mother divorced a few years back), but we also see the strong bond they share, as well as their determination to survive, regardless of how dire things become.

The creature effects in Crawl are outstanding, as are the scenes when the gators attack (one particularly gruesome sequence, involving a family looting an abandoned gas station, is executed to perfection), yet all of this would have been for naught had the characters themselves not been strong, and thanks to Scodelario and Pepper, Crawl features two of the strongest in recent memory.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Sunday, October 24, 2021

#2,647. Idle Hands (1999)


A stoner horror / comedy directed by Rodman Flender, Idle Hands is chock full of ideas, and, fortunately, most of them worked for me.

Anton (Devon Sawa) is a slacker who spends his days getting high and watching TV with good friends Mick (Seth Green) and Pnub (Elden Hensen). His life takes a turn for the worse, however, when he loses control of his right hand.

Anton’s hand is so far gone, in fact, that it has actually started killing people! Can he stop his murderous appendage before it turns on his new girlfriend Molly (Jessica Alba), or will Anton’s hand continue to have a mind of its own?

As you might expect, a lot of the comedy in Idle Hands is of the slapstick variety; Sawa delivers a strong physical performance as Anton (the scenes in which his character battles his own hand are a lot of fun). Yet as good as he is, it’s Green and Hensen (as Anton’s loyal - and eventually undead – pals) who get the most laughs.

While it does feature a few tense moments as well as a gory scene or two (one poor bastard gets his scalp ripped off), it’s the comedy that makes Idle Hands such an entertaining watch.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Saturday, October 23, 2021

#2,646. When Animals Dream (2014)


Marie (Sonia Suhi), a shy teenager, lives in a small fishing village with her father Thor (Lars Mikklesen) and wheelchair-bound mother (Sonja Richter).

The recent discovery of a rash on Marie’s chest coincides with several unexplained murders, and it soon becomes obvious that Thor is hiding a dark secret, one that might explain why Marie’s mother is catatonic and why Marie herself is undergoing a very frightening change.

We realize early on in When Animals Dream that Thor knows more than he’s letting on about Marie’s “condition”, but what’s even more interesting is that the entire town also seems to be in on it; there are arguments between Thor and angry locals, whose “concerns” seem to center on Marie’s mother (a woman so far gone at this point that she can’t even feed herself anymore).

Director Jonas Alexander Arnby drops hints throughout When Animals Dream that Marie is changing, transforming from a meek girl into an aggressive young woman, and the film’s remote setting works to the story’s advantage, enhancing its lead character’s sense of isolation.

When Animals Dream is a slow burn horror movie for most of its runtime (centering more on the mystery surrounding Marie’s family), but takes off in the final act, culminating in a sequence set aboard a fishing boat that you won’t soon forget.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Friday, October 22, 2021

#2,645. Demonic (2015)


Detective Mark Lewis (Frank Grillo) responds to a call at a derelict old mansion, where a possible murder has taken place. When he arrives, he finds that four college-aged kids (all paranormal researchers) have been hacked to death with an ax. In addition, two more (played by Cody Horn and Scott Mechlowicz) are missing, and another, named John (Dustin Milligan), is alive but in a state of shock.

Aided by psychologist Elizabeth Kline (Maria Bello), Lewis hopes that John will be able to shed some light on this very bizarre homicide, including why he and his friends decided to hold a séance in a house where, 20 years earlier, a similar murder took place.

Directed by Will Canon, Demonic is a horror / mystery that doubles as a pretty effective haunted house movie; the mansion that serves as the main set is uber-creepy (props to Production Designer Deborah Riley and Set decorator Ryan Martin Dwyer), and throughout the movie we’re treated to flashbacks of John and the doomed researchers as they prepare for their séance, scenes in which Canon utilizes a number of successful - though not totally original – jump scares.

An above-average horror film that’s an even better mystery, Demonic will keep you guessing right up to the end.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, October 21, 2021

#2,644. Nightmare (1981)


Writer / director Romano Scavolini’s 1981 horror film Nightmare is one nasty little slasher!

George Tatum (Baird Stafford), a diagnosed schizophrenic committed to a psychiatric ward for mutilating a Brooklyn family, has been the subject of an experiment designed to curb - and eventually eliminate – his violent tendencies.

Convinced the treatment was a success, the hospital discharges George, who, soon after his release, steals a car and drives from New York to Florida so he can stalk single mom Susan (Sharon Smith) and her three kids.

Even by ‘80s standards, Nightmare is a brutal picture; before arriving in Florida, George makes a pit stop in South Carolina, where he murders waitress Barbara (Kathleen Ferguson), first slashing her throat (not the greatest effect, but good enough to make you cringe) and then stabbing her repeatedly. Scavolini doesn’t shy away from nudity either; at one point George takes a nighttime stroll down New York’s infamous 42nd Street, where he visits a porn theater and watches a live sex show.

Overall, Nightmare is an effective slasher, with some strong gore scenes (though I don’t believe for a minute the producer’s claim that Tom Savini handled the effects; the quality is nowhere near his standard), and fans of ‘80s horror will probably enjoy it as much as I did.

But go in knowing that Nightmare is not for the squeamish. Unlike other films, this movie deserved its spot on the UK’s Video Nasties list!
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

#2,643. Lake Michigan Monster (2018)


A 2018 comedy / horror / fantasy, Lake Michigan Monster follows the exploits of the very strange Captain Seafield (writer / director Ryland Tews), who assembles a team of so-called “experts” (Erick West, Beulah Peters, Daniel Long) and sets up his HQ on the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Seifield’s goal: to hunt down and destroy the lake’s dreaded sea monster, which, he alleges, killed his father.

The laughs come fast and furious in Lake Michigan Monster; it’s an assault on the senses, a low-budget black and white joke fest with bargain-basement CGI / special effects that only add to the enjoyment of it all. You’re not meant to take a single moment seriously, and with a running time of just under 80 minutes, the film maintains an impressive pace, never losing an ounce of energy along the way (Tews even throws in a couple of catchy musical numbers, just to mix things up a bit).

Lake Michigan Monster is Airplane-style lunacy, and I’m betting you’ll have as much fun as I did watching it.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

#2,642. Mimic (1997)


Director Guillermo Del Toro’s visual proficiency and love of monsters gets a full work-out in his 1997 sci-fi / horror film Mimic (which he co-wrote with Matthew Robbins).

A plague, carried by cockroaches, is wiping out the children of New York City. In an effort to extinguish the bugs (and thus end the disease), Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) and Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) “create” a genetically enhanced insect species - a “superbug” if you will - which, because it is sterile, will die out itself within six months of destroying the infected cockroaches.

Their plan proves successful, and while some, including Susan’s colleague Dr. Gates (F. Murray Abraham), criticize their methods, New York hails Drs. Tyler and Mann as heroes.

Three years later, Peter and Susan - now happily married to one another - find themselves facing an entirely new problem: an undocumented species of giant insect is terrorizing both the city’s subway and sewer systems, and upon closer examination, Susan is horrified to discover that this new man-eating insect is actually a mutation of the superbug she herself engineered!

With the help of angry policeman Leonard Norton (Charles S. Dutton), a shoe-shiner named Manny (Giancarlo Gianni) and Manny’s autistic son (Alexander Goodwin), Peter and Susan search for answers, only to discover their superbug has mutated in ways they never thought possible.

The creatures themselves are definitely one of the film’s strong points; they walk upright, are as big as full-grown humans, and can even fly (which they do several times in the movie’s final act, resulting in some gnarly kills). In fact, these bugs have evolved to the point that, from a distance, they actually look human (Susan herself, caught off-guard, is attacked by one in the subway).

In addition, the underground set pieces that Del Toro and team created for Mimic work wonders, conjuring up a creepy atmosphere; at one point, Peter, Leonard, and Peter’s assistant Josh (played by Josh Brolin) find themselves in a long-abandoned underground station, complete with a decaying subway car (which proves useful once the bugs track them down).

Featuring a fair number of suspenseful sequences and even some nasty gore, Mimic is a superior creature feature, made by a director who, in the years to follow, would become a master of that particular subgenre.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Monday, October 18, 2021

#2,641. Bordello of Blood (1996)


A movie every bit as entertaining as the Tales from the Crypt TV series that inspired it.

When her brother Caleb (Corey Feldman) disappears, Catherine (Erica Eleniak) hires private investigator Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller) to track him down.

As it turns out, the last time anyone saw Caleb, he was on his way to a brothel situated in the basement of a local mortuary. But this is no ordinary whorehouse: the proprietor is a busty redhead named Lilith (Angie Everhart), who is actually an ancient vampire! And if he doesn’t play his cards right, Guttman himself may become Lilith’s next victim.

Hosted, much like the TV show, by the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir), Bordello of Blood is a bloody good time, a comedy-fueled vampire movie with plenty of laughs and more than its share of gore. Everhart is drop-dead sexy as the all-powerful Lilith, and Chris Sarandon is also strong as a televangelist in league with the devil, yet it’s Dennis Miller’s wise-ass private investigator who steals the show (his one-liners are priceless).

And like any good Tales from the Crypt episode, the horror elements in Bordello of Blood are as potent as the guffaws (before finishing their “customers” off, Lilith and her vampiric whores snatch their hearts right out of their chests). Fans of the TV series won’t want to miss this movie!
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Sunday, October 17, 2021

#2,640. Open 24 Hours (2018)


Recently released from prison, where she served time for setting her serial killer boyfriend on fire, Mary (Vanessa Grasse) is trying to put her life back together.

With the help of her parole officer (Daniel O’Meara), she lands a job as the overnight cashier at a remote gas station. But Mary’s past refuses to let go; along with experiencing hallucinations (a form of PTSD), she is repeatedly hounded by the family members of those her boyfriend James (Cole Vigue) murdered over the years, many of whom blame her for not stopping him sooner.

And during her first shift at the gas station, Mary’s demons will come back to haunt her in a way she never anticipated.

A shockingly violent horror / thriller, writer / director Padraig Reynolds’ Open 24 Hours features some very effective scenes, including a few that will surely make the gore hounds happy.

If the movie has a downside, it’s the way it handles Mary’s (many) hallucinations, undermining their effectiveness by dipping its bucket into that well far too often (before she even starts at the gas station, Mary experiences at least a half dozen horrific visions).

I still happily recommend Open 24 Hours; Grasse is superb as the troubled lead, and there are some tense scenes scattered throughout. I only wish Reynolds had pulled the reins in a bit with regards to showcasing Mary’s PTSD; less would have definitely been better.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, October 16, 2021

#2,639. Daybreakers (2009)


What an awesome premise!

The year is 2019, and the world is controlled by vampires. Humans are the food supply, but unfortunately, mankind is on the verge of extinction. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a scientist, is working on a “blood substitute”, which, if he’s successful, will ensure the survival of the new vampire species.

But Edward is one of the few undead who regrets what’s being done to the human population. When he meets Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willen Dafoe), a former vampire who, following a freak accident, found himself human again, Edward decides that, instead of a food substitute, he’d much rather devote his time to curing vampirism!

Like I said, it’s a great premise, and fortunately, Daybreakers lives up to its potential. Set primarily at night (because we all know what happens to vampires in the sunlight), the movie is undeniably dark (in both presentation and subject matter), and some of the subplots are just as intriguing as the main story.

For example, there's Edward’s boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), a shady big-time executive who sees a chance to make a boatload of money with the blood substitute. Alas, Bromley’s daughter Alison (Isabel Lucas), ran away ten years ago, soon after her father turned, and she is now in hiding. Though content with his new “life”, Bromley would like nothing more than to have his daughter back.

Directors / brothers Michael and Peter Spierig do a fine job balancing the film’s various storylines, and while Daybreakers does occasionally tread into familiar territory (there are a few standard chase scenes), it’s unique enough to warrant serious attention.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Friday, October 15, 2021

#2,638. The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)


Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came from the Sea features a storyline so unsettling that it earned the film a place on the UK’s video nasties list.

Whenever she babysits her nephews Tadd (Jean Pierre Camps) and Tripoli (Mark Livingston), Molly (Millie Perkins) regales them with stories about her father, a sea captain, who she claims was lost at sea. But the truth of the matter is that - as a young girl - Molly was molested by her father on a regular basis.

Her current job, a waitress in a dingy bar, allows the alcoholic Molly to meet all kinds of men, some of whom she becomes romantically involved with, including Alexander McPeak (Stafford Morgan), the star of a popular television commercial.

Unfortunately, most of the guys Molly dates eventually turn up dead!

Millie Perkins delivers a stirring performance as the deeply troubled Molly, whose optimistic outlook on life masks a trauma that haunts her every waking moment. Though it features a handful of violent scenes (Molly’s weapon of choice is a razor blade), it’s the movie’s flashback sequences, when a young Molly (played by Verkina Flower) is raped by her father (John F. Gott), that will make your skin crawl.

Shot by Dean Cundey (who a few years later would lend his talents to John Carpenter’s Halloween), The Witch Who Came from the Sea is a visually exciting movie; the opening on the beach is unforgettable, as is Molly’s “date” with two football players (a sequence that has a dreamlike quality to it). But it’s Millie Perkins’ performance, coupled with the film’s dark, troubling depiction of a woman whose mind has turned against her, that makes The Witch Who Came from the Sea so unnerving.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Thursday, October 14, 2021

#2,637. The Wicker Man (1973)


It had been a while since I last watched The Wicker Man, and I’d forgotten how great it is. Combining elements of horror, mystery, even a musical, director Robin Hardy’s film (from a script by Anthony Shaffer) pulls you in with its story before knocking you out with one of the most chilling finales in cinematic history. 

Police officer Howie (Edward Woodward) visits the small Scottish Island of Summerisle to search for a missing girl named Rowan Morrison. 

During his investigation, the devoutly Christian Howie is shocked and appalled to discover that the residents of this small community, led by the charismatic Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), live a pagan lifestyle, worshiping sun and water Gods and engaging in all manner of “lewd” behavior. 

What’s more, not a single person on Summerisle, not the Librarian (Ingrid Pitt), the barmaid (Britt Eklund), or the missing girl’s supposed mother (Irene Sunters), claim to have any knowledge of Rowan Morrison, going so far as to say that nobody by that name even lives there! 

Woodward is at his absolute best as Howie, a self-righteous officer of the law whose personal beliefs give him the strength to carry on under trying circumstances, and Lee is equally superb as the friendly Lord Summerisle, a man with his own set of values that he, too, feels strongly about. Their scenes together are outstanding, and I enjoyed the film’s musical asides as well (my favorite being the bawdy number in the bar, where the male patrons sing about barmaid Britt Eklund’s promiscuous ways). 

It’s the final act, however, that makes The Wicker Man an unforgettable experience. Most of you know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t seen the movie, I advise you to go into it cold; don’t watch trailers or read anything that might spoil it. The ending of The Wicker Man is sure to shake you; I knew what was coming, and it shook me all the same!
Rating: 10 out of 10

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

#2,636. Amulet (2020)


Writer / director Romola Garai’s Amulet is a slow-burn horror film that challenges our perceptions of good and evil, ultimately blurring the line between the two.

When we first meet former soldier Tomas (Alec Secareanu), he’s living on the streets of London. A kindly nun (Imelda Staunton) takes pity on him, and offers him a place to stay, the catch being that he will have to assist the house’s owner, Magda (Carla Juri), who spends her days in isolation caring for her dying mother (Anah Ruddin).

Occasionally, Magda’s mother, in a fit of rage, will beat her, and Tomas tells her Magda shouldn’t put up with such abuse. But over time, he realizes there’s more to this complex mother / daughter relationship than meets the eye.

Secareanu is quite good as the troubled Tomas, who seems like a decent man; there are flashbacks to his days in the military, when he helped a fleeing refugee (Angelika Papoulia) who was trying to reunite with her daughter.

But with its deliberate pacing, peppered with the odd disturbing sequence (there’s one involving a clogged toilet you won’t soon forget), Amulet reveals, ever so patiently, that it’s difficult to know what’s truly in a man’s heart, and it’s damn near impossible to outrun your past.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10