Saturday, September 2, 2017

August Quick Picks and Pans

Deathdream (aka: Dead of Night) (1974) Director Bob Clark and writer Alan Ormsby (the same team that worked on Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things) best collaborative effort uses the real-world nightmares of the war in Vietnam as a backdrop for their horror film. John Marley and Lynn Carlin play Charles and Christine Brooks, parents mourning the loss of their son Andy. They’re elated when he suddenly appears on their doorstep, but puzzled to discover he’s not the same person they knew. His arrival also coincides with a series of strange deaths in the small town.

Richard Backus impresses as the blank and impassive Andy, who spends much of his time sitting in a chair, staring into space. When he smiles, it’s truly unsettling. Deathdream really gets under your skin, exploring the effects of PTSD, and how grief can manifest itself with maladaptive coping mechanisms (Andy’s father turns to alcohol, while his mother shields herself with denial). The film also features sparing but effective makeup effects by a young Tom Savini, which add to the disturbing experience.

Rating: ****. Available on DVD and Amazon Video

Dementia 13 (1963) Some movies stay in your consciousness for years, yet continue to pass you by. After hearing so many mixed things for so long, I decided to give Dementia 13 a try, and was pleasantly surprised by this Roger Corman production, directed by Francis Coppola. This atmospheric mood piece fits nicely in the vein of Hammer and William Castle thrillers from the period (such as Paranoiac and Strait-Jacket), and thematically falls somewhere between Psycho and Carnival of Souls. Hoping to cash in on a family inheritance, Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) travels to the family castle in Ireland, where she’s met by in-laws plagued by mental illness and haunted by the specter of death. Some highlights are the eerie cinematography by Charles Hannawalt and standout performances by Patrick Magee as a meddling family doctor, and William Campbell as Louise’s temperamental brother in law Richard. Even if the climax was a bit predictable, I enjoyed feeling on edge with this exercise in style and madness.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Video

Demonlover (2002) What the hell did I just watch, and what was all of that about? I’m willing to entertain other’s suggestions. French director Olivier Assayas incorporates   French, English and Japanese dialogue into his film, and like the eclectic mix of languages, it’s an odd stew of ideas, blending drama, intrigue, sex and torture. Connie Nielsen stars as Diane, a spy tasked with infiltrating one of the premier computer game companies. The title refers to a RPG website that deals in sadomasochism. The deeper she gets, the more she places herself at risk. The story goes off the rails at times, and most of the characters aren’t remotely relatable, but it’s not boring. I kept wondering what was going to happen next, if only to quell my growing confusion. While most of the corporate espionage plot meanders, the ending packs a wallop with some pointed commentary about society’s casual acceptance of violence and degradation of our fellow humans. Oh, so maybe that’s what Demonlover was trying to say.  

Rating: **½. Available on DVD

Aaaaaaaah! (2015) With the exception, perhaps, of the opening scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’ll wager you haven’t seen anything like this before. People (in an alternate universe?) behave like apes. They speak in grunts, and exhibit territorial behavior with various excretions, and fight each other for dominance – you see, we’re all nothing but apes in disguise (like we didn’t already know that). The film features a veritable who’s who of British comedy actors, including Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding, Steve Oram (who also wrote and directed) and Alice Lowe. If you scan the reviews on Amazon UK, you’ll learn it’s a love it or hate it affair, with ratings either five stars or zero stars, and no middle ground. I opine it’s not as terrible, nor as brilliant as either assessment would lead you to believe. It’s a unique concept that almost works, but its worst offense is it just isn’t very funny. Intrepid viewers might want to give Aaaaaaaah! a shot, but good luck finding a copy in the States. Ask for it by name.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD (Region 2)

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