Next Door (2005) This taut psychological horror from Norwegian writer/director Pål Sletaune subverts our expectations – we think we know exactly where it’s going to go, until we’re taken to some uncomfortable places. In the opening scene, John’s (Kristoffer Joner) ex-girlfriend Ingrid (Anna Bache-Wiig) collects her things from his apartment. It’s clear he hasn’t taken the breakup well, and he’s failed to move on with his life. Enter two attractive young women (Cecilie A. Mosli and Julia Schacht) in the apartment next door, who seem to know the intimate details of John’s rocky relationship. He soon becomes the object of their game – a game without any apparent rules. The film revisits the events of the first scene, and as new layers are uncovered, we begin to question the veracity of John’s memories (reality versus his version of reality). Simon Boswell’s effective, understated score helps gently escalate the tension. Watch it now, before the inevitable American remake.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD
Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear (1988) With his “Dead” films and Creepshow coveting most of the thunder, you’d be excused if you overlooked this creepy little flick from writer/director George A. Romero (based on a novel by Michael Stewart). After a jogging-related accident, Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) sustains injuries that render him quadriplegic. In addition to his compromised physical condition, he must contend with an overbearing mother (Joyce Van Patten) and a domineering nurse. He finds salvation in Ella, a super-intelligent monkey, donated by his genetic researcher pal (John Pankow).
Everything seems to be going well, until man and monkey form a psychic bond. Ella acts out on Allan’s suppressed anger and darker impulses, as a rage-fueled monster from the Id. Romero raises some interesting concerns about the ethics of animal experimentation, and how people with severe disabilities can become infantilized in the eyes of others. We’re also left to speculate: Is it the monkey or the man who commits the murders? Monkey Shines is marred by an over-zealous score and an optimistic ending that seems tacked on. It mostly works though, thanks to some tense scenes and a sympathetic, ambivalence-laden, performance by Beghe.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime
Innocent Blood (1992) It’s not as well known or celebrated as An American Werewolf in London, but John Landis’ spin on the vampire genre is not without its charms. Anne Parillaud (La Femme Nikita) stars as Marie, a vampire of indeterminate age, who’s experiencing a bout of ennui. Looking for a change, she decides to prey on members of a crime family, led by Sallie, “The Shark” (Robert Loggia). Her nocturnal proclivities soon land her in hot water with the mob, and an undercover detective (Anthony LaPaglia) is caught in the middle. Innocent Blood is sure to be polarizing for purists – it seems to throw many of the venerable elements of vampire lore out the window (such as seeing one’s own reflection, death by stake, etc…), and despite their enhanced senses and reflexes, the vampires in the film are dispatched too easily. Steve Johnson’s practical effects are top notch, however, including a cool glowing eye effect is truly unique to this film. It also boasts some fine performances, particularly from Parrilaud, La Paglia, Loggia and Don Rickles (as Sallie’s unscrupulous lawyer, Manny Bergman) and features fun cameos from Frank Oz, Tom Savini and Forrest Ackerman. Give it a try.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) Many of us at one time or another could probably relate to the nagging feeling that our partner/spouse/friend isn’t the same person we once thought they were. Gloria Talbott stars as Marge, a newlywed, whose suspicions about her new husband Bill (Tom Tryon) are confirmed when she discovers (cue dramatic music) he’s an alien impersonating a human. He’s a representative of an invading force from a distant, vanished planet, hoping to repopulate his species (all the women on his home world died out), but struggles with understanding human emotions. The plot plays like a continuation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with its “who do you trust” vibe, and the film provides a sly commentary on life after the honeymoon (with ’50s-era women regarded as second-class citizens). It’s too bad about the pat ending, which wraps things up a bit too neatly, but worth a look for the thematic content.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Howl (2015) Director Paul Hyett’s film takes place over the course of one night, mostly within the confines of a commuter train. After failing to get a promotion, conductor Joe (Ed Speleers) is forced to work back-to-back shifts. Everything that could go wrong for him seems to occur over the course of the evening. His life takes another turn for the worse when the train makes an emergency stop in the middle of nowhere, and he’s forced to contend with irate passengers and a malevolent creature (or creatures) outside. As the evening wears on, everyone’s survival is in question. Howl starts strong, with a less is more approach for the first two-thirds. Unfortunately, the last third undermines the film, with annoying characters and an insistence to see the werewolves in greater detail.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime
Ed and His Dead Mother (1993) Steve Buscemi stars as Ed Chilton, a meek owner of a hardware store. A year after his mother passes away, he’s still grieving her loss. He meets a shady traveling salesman (Is there any other kind?) played by John Glover who promises to bring his mother back to life for a nominal fee. As these things normally go, nothing happens without consequences, and Ed’s mother Mabel (Miriam Margolyes) isn’t quite herself anymore. Ed and His Dead Mother plays less like a fully fleshed out movie, and more like an extended episode of Tales from the Crypt. The be-careful-what- you-wish-for type story could have benefited from another draft or two, and considering the subject matter, could have used some more visceral shocks (Note: For the record, I don’t condone gore for gore’s sake, but the material demands a less bloodless affair).
Rating: 3 stars. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime
The Ape Man (1943) This example of “poverty row” hokum from Monogram Pictures, directed by William Beaudine, stars Bela Lugosi as Dr. James Brewster, a scientist who becomes the subject of his own experiment. He transforms into a man/ape hybrid, and must obtain spinal fluid to restore himself to his former human state. Minerva Urecal plays his sister Agatha, who keeps him safe, locked away in a secret hidden laboratory. Jeff Carter, a pesky reporter (Wallace Ford) and plucky photographer Billie Mason (Louise Currie) attempt to get to the bottom of the strange goings-on in the Brewster house. It’s silly, predictable, and unlike some of Lugosi’s better roles, he doesn’t evoke much sympathy as the title character. Still, The Ape Man is nothing more or less than it aspires to be, a bargain basement programmer, fit for Saturday matinees or late-night viewings.
Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime
Zeder (aka: Revenge of the Dead) (1983) Director/co-writer Pupi Avati’s zombie film is well made, with good performances and an excellent premise, but it suffers from being exceedingly dull. Nothing much happens for most of the film’s running time, as we’re introduced to a mystery with little payoff. Stefano (Gabriele Lavia), a struggling writer receives a used typewriter as an anniversary gift from his wife Alessandra (Anne Canovas). The typewriter ribbon provides tantalizing clues to the original owner, who was part of an experiment to revive the dead (He investigated ancient regions known as “K-Zones” which could provide the secret to immortality). Some creepiness at the end does little to absolve the 90 minutes of tedium that preceded it.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD