We Are the Night (2010) Lena (Karoline Herfurth), a small-time thief with a troubled past, finds a strange kinship among a group of vampires. She initially enjoys her new-found freedom as an immortal being, but soon discovers the terrible price that comes along with her transformation. Things get especially complicated when a cop (Max Riemelt) takes an interest in her affairs. Director/co-writer Dennis Gansel keeps things moving with kinetic action scenes on the streets of Berlin, but knows when to slow things down for moments of introspection. At its core, We Are the Night is about belonging and unconditional love, wherever that love might spring from.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD
The Eyes of My Mother (2016) After witnessing the grisly murder of her mother by a deranged drifter, Francisca begins a gradual descent into madness. As she grows up, she becomes increasingly isolated from society, while attempting to create her version of “family.” Filmed in glorious black and white, The Eyes of My Mother is short on plot, but long on a pervasive sense of gloom. Part Repulsion, part Psycho, writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature is a perversely fascinating character study. Kika Magalhães is excellent as the adult Francisca, somehow managing to convey vulnerability and menace simultaneously. It’s well worth seeking out, if you have a stomach for its unique brand of grotesquerie.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Kanopy
La Llorona (1933) One of numerous titles dedicated to the legendary wailing spirit, Ramón Peón’s film has the distinction of being one of the first Mexican sound horror movies. In a flashback sequence, set in Mexico’s colonial past, an indigenous woman kills herself and her child, rather than have the child’s father (a Spanish nobleman) take custody of him. It’s not particularly terrifying for modern audiences, but a milestone nonetheless, setting the template for countless horror films released. And the vision of La Llorona’s ghostly figure rising into in the night sky is suitably eerie.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray
Alone in the Dark (1982) Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) is enthusiastic about starting work at a new psychiatric hospital, but some of the residents aren’t too keen on the fact that he replaced their favorite psychiatrist. Believing that he murdered his predecessor, they conspire to kill him and his family. Director/co-writer Jack Sholder’s (The Hidden) movie features some ridiculously over-the-top performances by Donald Pleasence as the hospital’s touchy-feely director, a delusional colonel (Jack Palance), and a maniacal preacher (Martin Landau). Add an appearance by NYC punk band The Sick F*cks, and you’ve got your night’s entertainment sorted out. It’s full of plot holes and logical inconsistencies, and doesn’t make a lick of sense most of the time, but who cares when you’re having so much fun?
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Cold Skin (2017) A young researcher (David Oakes) hitches a ride on a steamer (circa 1914) to research wind patterns on a remote Antarctic island. He forms a reluctant alliance with an eccentric lighthouse keeper (Ray Stevenson) when he discovers they’re under constant attack by a colony of amphibious hominids. But everything isn’t as it seems when he realizes the creatures aren’t monsters, but an intelligent species with their own unique culture. Cold Skin is a refreshing spin on the monster siege film, asking us to consider humanity’s long, sordid history of colonization and genocide.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Knocking (2021) Upon her release from a Swedish psychiatric hospital, Molly (Cecilia Milocco) attempts to settle into life in a new apartment. Her peace proves to be short-lived, as she hears a persistent knocking sound from upstairs. Her attempts to localize the source results in friction between Molly and her puzzled neighbors and disbelieving authorities. To everyone but her, it soon becomes clear that her perceptions might not be accurate. Director Frida Kempff presents a baffling, sometimes frustrating viewing experience that keeps you guessing throughout. By the film’s conclusion, it’s still unclear whether the strange goings on are all in her head or reality.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Kanopy and
Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things (1971) Writer/director Thomas Casey’s LGBTQ+ slasher stars Abe Zwick and Wayne Crawford as Paul and Stanley, two fugitives on the run from the cops, after a murder in Baltimore. They hole up in suburban Miami, but neither one does a great job of keeping a low profile. Stanley drives around in a flashy van, while Paul disguises himself as Stanley’s “Aunt Martha.” When Stanley begins taking an interest in some of the neighborhood women, Paul/Martha lapses into moments of jealous, homicidal rage, and bodies start piling up. While I’d hesitate to call this a “landmark” film, it's refreshing to see a genre film from a different perspective.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
The Strangeness (1985) A group of surveyors explore an old abandoned California mine for its potential to yield gold. While they peruse its inky depths, something deadly lurks in the shadows. The vaguely yonic stop-motion creature (dripping acid from its orifice) is barely seen. Expect many shots of the characters bumbling around in the mine and bickering over who’s the leader. Meanwhile, they foolishly separate so they can be picked off one-by-one. It’s not bad for a movie that allegedly cost $25,000 to make, but it’s not good either.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD (Out of print)
and Amazon Prime