Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras) (2017) In this surprising film by Brazilian writer/director team Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, Ana (Marjorie Estiano), a young well-to-do pregnant woman hires Clara (Isabél Zuaa) as a personal assistant/nanny. Clara soon finds that her employer has some unusual nocturnal habits, which provide some clues about her unborn child. Good Manners holds its cards close to its chest, taking time to establish the main characters before delving into the more fantastical elements of the second half. The filmmakers employ a blend of visual styles and tones (including some brief musical interludes), weaving its tale of unselfish love and personal sacrifice. As in many werewolf movies (the creature is brought to life through a skillful combination of animatronics and CGI), there’s a tragic, fatalistic streak that runs throughout, about the immutability of changing one’s nature. It’s better not to know too much about this film going in, instead allowing the melancholy story to unfold.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD and Kanopy
Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) “Horror Times,” a YouTube-style channel exploring the most haunted places on earth, sets its sights on an abandoned mental hospital (where multiple unexplained deaths occurred), considered one of the most haunted places on Earth. In an effort to get 1 million viewers, the host/show director Ha-Joon (Ha-Joon Wi) stacks the deck by staging some paranormal occurrences. He didn’t consider, however, that the restless spirits in the place would create their own disturbances for his team of investigators. Soon, Ha-Joon and the other team members are in a desperate struggle for their sanity and their lives. Director/co-writer Beom-sik Jeong’s found footage horror movie starts out light in tone, getting progressively tense as it approaches a grim conclusion. While, the individual components of the film are nothing new, it’s an intense experience that provides some genuine scares. See it before the inevitable American remake.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime
Popcorn (1991) This playful, affectionate ode to B-horror flicks and William Castle-esque gimmicks prefigures Joe Dante’s Matinee (1994) by a few years. Ray Walston appears (in a cameo role) as Dr. Mnesyne, movie memorabilia collector extraordinaire. He provides vintage props for a group of college film students staging a movie marathon fundraiser. Unfortunately for the students, a homicidal maniac has other plans, as he lurks about the old movie house, picking off people one by one. As we soon discover, the killer has a vested interest in Maggie (Jill Schoelen), one of the student organizers. Popcorn never takes itself too seriously, seemingly anticipating the many self-referential horror films that followed in its wake. Some of the most enjoyable elements in the film are the “let’s put on a show” aesthetic, as well as the clever ‘50s-style parodies within the movie (which would make great features by themselves).
Veerana (1988) This energetic film from purveyors of Bollywood horror, Shyam and Tulsi Ramsay, pushed the boundaries of what Indian censors would allow (it would probably be a PG in the States). After the succubus Nakita (Roy Kamal) is destroyed, an evil sorcerer (Rajesh Vivek) attempts to resurrect her spirit, placing a curse on a local family. He plans to bring her back through the family’s daughter Jasmine (Jasmin). The possessed young woman follows in Nakita’s footsteps, luring naïve men to their doom. Of course, there’s plenty of time for song and dance numbers, which have little to do with the plot, and pad out the running time. But fear not, dear reader; you never have to wait too long before something else occurs. There’s more going on in the opening credits sequence than most other movies. Veerana has something for everyone, with action, drama, suspense, romance, horror, gore, music and (bad) comedy.
Rating: ***½. Available on DVD (included in The Bollywood Horror Collection, Volume 2)
Hex (aka: Xie) (1980) In this demonic horror, Shaw Brothers style, a loutish, alcoholic man conspires with his mistress (posing as a servant) to scare his ailing wife to death. All goes as planned, until his deceased wife returns to punish the two lovers. Director/co-writer Chih-Hung Kuei’s film has several jarring tonal shifts, in which the drama with the abusive husband suddenly lapses into comedy. Also, if some of the musical cues sound suspiciously familiar, your ears aren’t deceiving you (some snippets of the soundtrack appear to have been lifted from Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture). It’s difficult to have sympathy for the unscrupulous couple’s dilemma, but it sets up the film’s most memorable final sequence, when a Taoist shaman attempts to exorcise the spell. Filled with style and detailed sets, it’s well worth a look, if you can find a copy.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD (Region 2/3)
The Living Corpse (aka: Zinda Laash) (1967) Here’s a rarity, a Pakistani retelling of Dracula, thought lost for decades. Luckily for us, it’s been restored for future generations to enjoy. A mad scientist (Rehan) develops an elixir of life and tests it on himself. From that point onward, the movie more or less follows Bram Stoker’s story (albeit in a modern-day setting), as he becomes a bloodthirsty vampire. The filmmakers were obviously taking notes from Hammer’s version, rather than the Universal film, with Rehan’s more visceral take on the vampire. When he makes his entrance, walking down a staircase, it’s easy to imagine Christopher Lee following the same steps. On the other hand, The Living Corpse has some touches Stoker and Hammer never thought of, including several jaunty song and dance numbers (Also, the opening credits sequence inexplicably uses “La Cucaracha.”). In this version, the antagonist doesn’t transform into a bat. Instead of a ghostly carriage, he traverses point A to point B in a car. If you can accept the creaky set design and sillier aspects, it’s a fun repurposing of Stoker’s enduring character, worthy of re-discovery.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
Even the Wind is Afraid (aka: Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo) (1968) In this gothic Mexican supernatural mystery from writer/director Carlos Enrique Taboada, Claudia (Alicia Bonet), a girl at an exclusive prep school is haunted by the ghost of a former student who died under mysterious circumstances. Much to her dismay, she has a tough time convincing her fellow classmates (all of whom are portrayed by actresses in their 20s) or the stern headmistress (Marga López). Only the elderly groundskeeper Diego (Rafael Llamas, with fake gray hair) seems to believe her. It’s rather slow-paced but there are some tense scenes throughout, and an impromptu strip-tease livens things up. Although it’s short on action, it’s a great looking, atmospheric thriller, worth checking out.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Vampyres (1974) Two shapely vampire women (Marianne Morris and Anulka Dziubinska, sans fangs) lure men, via hitchhiking, to their crumbling mansion, where they seduce them and drain them of their blood. Meanwhile, a couple camping in a trailer speculate about the strange goings-on in the nearby estate. There isn’t much to justify the film, with its weak plot and paper-thin story. The main characters are naked a lot, and the male characters are uniformly unlikable and condescending (I doubt anyone would mourn their passing). Ultimately, this pointless, exploitive exercise just reminded me of a British version of a Jean Rollin film or 1971’s Daughters of Darkness (albeit with less style, and making about as much sense).
Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi