AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) review
To this day, putting AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON on makes me feel good. It’s up there with goofing off with an old pal, finding a forgotten $5 in my pocket or being allowed an uninterrupted fifteen-minute nap in the afternoon. It’s one of those films every time I watch it, I wish I could’ve made it. And who wouldn’t? There is so much to love in it: natural acting, natural banter, realistic reactions to horror and pain (my favorite being when David in mid-transformation feels a need to plead forgiveness for calling his best friend a “meatloaf” during an earlier scene); a nice romance, friendship, a likeable ironic soundtrack, mystery, gore and a wonderfully terrifying werewolf (who comes with an even more terrifying howl).
There seems to be some kind of argument of what this film is exactly. Is it a comedy with horror elements? Or a horror film laced with comedy? Jesus, who cares. It’s funny and horrifying and that’s all that really matters. Some of the best scenes involve Jack the corpse (in various stages of rot) explaining the rules of the supernatural while complaining how boring being undead is. WEREWOLF has a special place in my heart because of this. I grew up emulating David Letterman and watching Dracula and Frankenstein. For me, having a fun, smart, well-made film that merged ironic satire with its monsters was a gift from on high, a gift that keeps giving even after thirty years.
When a Stranger Calls (1979) review
When a Stranger Calls clocks in at 1:37 minutes. The first twenty minutes are great. The last twenty minutes are great. Whatever’s in the middle is not. The book-ends should be on some kind of top ten list for cinematic dread; the middle should make a top ten “how to fuck up your awesome movie” list. My advice is to skip the middle. You can spend this time teaching your dog a new trick, or you can clean your oven. Research what you can do to solve homelessness. Ask your wife how her day was and count how many times she’ll branch off topic. You can even fast forward through it, stopping when you see our heroine, Carol Kane, again.
You may be thinking, “but Kody, I’m a purist — I watch movies all the way through, so I can fully take in the whole experience.” And I’m telling you life is too short. See you at the rally against homelessness Sunday!
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1971) review
I’ve seen DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS four times now (three times on VHS), but I watched it on Blu last night and it was absolutely stunning. A weird, perverse tale of honeymooners that cross paths with Countess Bathory and her Familiar (both vampires), DAUGHTERS is filled with eroticism, lesbianism, and full-on kink. It’s also a full-on art-house flick, so the real beats are in the subtleties and allusions — there are no rules, there is no internal logic.
The aesthetics on Blu Ray just pop for this film — beautifully shot, the colors of the landscape, locations, and costumes are rich. And although I can see how a lot of people would be turned off by the subject matter and ethereal storyline, it is really interesting to put into a historical context, having an incredibly strong female (Bathory) dominate over her “pets” as well as the sadistic husband (a complete bastard).
And I have to say, the women in the film are absolutely gorgeous. Delphine Seyrig (Bathory) has this whole Marlene Dietrich vibe dressed in bold reds and whites, Andrea Rau (Bathory’s Familiar) is a goth girl dream and Danielle Ouimet (the honeymooning wife) is a natural beauty with straight long blonde hair and bedroom eyes. If you’re gonna make a lesbian vampire film, there are a lot worse choices to put in…
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) review
I found CARNIVAL OF SOULS around 20 years ago when it was playing on the once cool A&E network’s Halloween marathon. I think it was made for $33K in the early ’60s, it’s impact was pretty wide, inspiring George Romero’s original zombie opus and being a unique piece in the “limbo” genre (JACOB’S LADDER, OCCURRENCE AT OWL BRIDGE, the abysmal SOUL SURVIVORS).
It’s an unnerving piece. It’s a reflection on loneliness and emotional distance. The main set-piece is a grand but long abandoned pavilion — someone’s dream project at one point, now a hollow wreck where only the dead gather to dance. The best sequences are where the heroine (an atheist church organist) is struck with the inability to hear or be heard by anyone (a cheap but extremely effective film technique).
My only advice is to watch it alone. Older movies are ripe to be torn down when you watch with an audience used to certain tropes and styles (I was watching THE TERMINATOR one time with a group of assholes who thought the hairstyles and endo-skeleton scene was particularly hilarious — a moment where I could understand the NRA’s position in carrying firearms at all times). CARNIVAL OF SOULS may be dated in pace and filmmaking texture, but it has a lingering spirit in it; ideas and unnerving undertones that speak to our personal paranoias and fears. It traps me in those every time.
THE MUMMY(1932) review
The Mummy gets a bad (w)rap. Ha, ha. Puns! He’s not as sexy as Dracula, or as popular as Frankenstein’s Monster. He’s kind of the guy who’s just sort of there. I’m a monster kid from way back, and I can barely tell you what the guy does. Vamps turn into bats and mesmerize women; what the hell does the Mummy do? Shamble slowly? Is he just a retired dude shopping for cheese at Costco?
Anyway, I watched the original 1932 version of the Mummy after decades of not seeing it, and everything’s cleared up. He is cool and powerful — and goddammit, the Mummy matters. The whole reincarnated lover trope (something that’s been absorbed into vampire mythology with Fright Night, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dracula Untold) started here. The man also has the power to spare: Imhotep is an Egyptian priest capable of magical scrying, hypnosis and sympathetic magic (he causes one hapless victim to have a heart attack from miles away).
The film itself seems to be a beat by beat retelling of Dracula (released the year previous), but the real beauty of these classic monster flicks is in the cinematic details. The make-up is incredible. Both the initial Mummy wrapped-in-bandage look and the cracked, wrinkled visage he carries for the rest of the picture tap into fears of entropy. The lighting is beautiful, with these creepy-as-hell close-up’s of Karloff — eyes both sunken and glowing — shockingly cut into the flow of editing. Mr. Mummy, sir, I will never doubt you again.
I’m not sure how the hell you label something like FRANKLYN into a genre. The back of the Blu-Ray throws it into “science fiction”, but that’s a big misnomer. It’s somewhere in the realm of MULHOLLAND DRIVE or even CLOUD ATLAS, and I only throw those names out because schizophrenic realities do their best to mesh with the character’s schizophrenic points of view.
The film follows four fragmented souls: an artist who continuously attempts suicide for her art projects, a father searching for his missing son, a heart-broken man trying to connect romantically with his imaginary friend (!) and a Rorschach-esque vigilante who lives in a sort-of steampunk alternate reality where EVERYONE by law is required to be part of an organized religion (!!!). Looking at that character roster reminds me of Sesame Street’s “one of these kids is doing his own thing, one of these things doesn’t belong.”
And I have to admit, the first half hour was kind of tough nut to get through. Presenting two realities and four (seemingly) unconnected characters with problems that are vastly different from one another is a bold task for a filmmaker. Luckily, I could find Eva Green teaching Japanese calculous entertaining, so I stuck it out. Luckier still, after the initial set-up, the stories became more interesting. It was a rare case where I didn’t find the more fantastical DARK CITY/Tim Burton GOTHAM world more fascinating than the everyday schlubs doing their best to deal with their own worn-out lives. The ending was a bit schmaltzy, but the whole did want me to watch it again. Halloween movie? No, not really. Damn you, marketing department!
LAST SHIFT (2015) review
LAST SHIFT is an impressive, well-acted, well-directed fun-house-scare movie that would do John Carpenter proud. It packs a lot into its narrative: a rookie on her first shift, a defunct police station, a Manson like cult, poltergeist activity, horrifying hallucinations, wandering transients, and ghosts — plenty of ghosts!
There are shades of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SESSION 9 and 1408, but none of the echoes feel blatantly copied. What’s more, it can be mean with its imagery. One visual in particular of a corpse-ghost rising from some invisible rope was as cool as it was unsettling.
These kinds of movies are fun-house flicks. They send a character into a bad place and force them to live there till the bitter end. For the audience, it’s a cinematic haunted house at the fairgrounds: watch what horrors pop up next! LAST SHIFT may be soft on story or a really meaningful character arc, but as far as a nice, nasty, straight-up horror show goes, it carries the goods.
FURY (2014) mini-review
So FURY. Big, big thumbs up.
I was kind of apprehensive at first to sit through it (the first trailer was cool, but subsequent ads didn’t really hit the spot). But holy crap, two sequences had me on the edge of my seat. And any film where Shia LaBeouf makes you go “holy shit, that kid’s damned good” is worth its weight in gold.
In fact, everyone in this flick is top notch. And like I say, those two sequences: one an action scene involving three Shermans and one Tiger; the other is the most nerve-wracking meal scene since Marilyn Burns was invited to the dinner table in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. Great stuff.
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) review
At times, Night of the Hunter has an uneven tone to it, but I’ll be damned if the movie isn’t genius despite it. The theme weighs heavy on the bond of family and the desperate need to find security for those under your charge.
If you’re not in the know, the movie focuses on a serial killing preacher who worms his way into a widow’s house to find the stolen money stashed away by her late husband. The money’s whereabouts is known only to her two children; the eldest boy has sworn a vow to keep his sister and the money protected at all costs.
Night of the Hunter is pure fairytale — and when the kids take a journey down the river to escape their sinister step-father, the world itself literally turns into a Grimm’s fairy tale. I’m guessing it was shot on a soundstage: the harsh nature of the flowing water and mud is in sharp contrast to studio lighting and perfectly framed shots of predatory birds and frolicking bunnies. It’s surreal, mesmerizing and nightmarish. Only more so that it delves into some extremely dark issues: murder, child abuse, religious hypocrisy and moral apathy. It’s no surprise the film is cited as being influential to the cinema of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers.
Like I said above, there is an uneven tone to it. The preacher is a force of darkness. He has a Ted Bundy/Charles Manson control over women (most of whom he murders) and has no qualms in terrorizing kids (threatening to break arms, chasing them with an ominous switchblade). But then there are weird Home Alone moments where he’s comically dispatched (a string of glass jars fall on his head and the only thing missing is a halo of cartoon birds circling his head). But in the end, it’s a minor annoyance. There’s a reason why Night of the Hunter stands next to Citizen Kane as one of the best films ever made, and one of the scariest ever seen.
MYSTICS OF BALI and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) review
I guess I should’ve watched a double bill of The Omen and Poltergeist. But no, I decided to broaden my horizons and go with international horror from the early ’80s.
The first flick was THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, a Lucio Fulci flick. Sure the flick had some good shock moments, a great atmospheric house and a cool looking killer, but Jesus, what a mess of bad acting, bad dubbing, and inconsistent tone. I did enjoy that no one who lived in the house never questioned why there were several pints of blood that needed to be mopped up every second morning.
The second one I watched made the first one look like a polished Hollywood epic. Called MYSTICS IN BALI, this no-budget, incomprehensible mess boasted student film scratches on the print in lieu of lightning bolts and a floating head with dangling organs (!) as its main menace. For some reason, I kept wishing 1979 Captain America would show up on his motorbike to do battle with it. I don’t know why. Mind you, I don’t know why I continued to watch both of them instead of watching The Omen.