Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Quick Picks and Pans – Halloween 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) Just when you thought you’ve seen every spin on the vampire genre, along comes this assured feature film debut by writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour. With a Persian language soundtrack, Iranian Setting (filmed in California) and magnificent black and white cinematography, Amirpour makes a lasting impression. Arash (Arash Marandi) ekes out a meager existence in the slums of Bad City, where drugs and prostitution are commonplace. Sheila Vand plays the title character (the word “vampire” is never used) who strolls the streets and alleyways, and preys on the denizens around the slum. She’s highly selective about her choice of victim, however, dispatching those who cause suffering to others, or fail to contribute to the community. This hypnotic film might be deliberately paced, but don’t confuse that with boring. Amirpour takes the time to introduce us to the residents of Bad City, creating a world that’s bleak, immersive and believable.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

Ginger Snaps (2000) Here’s a rarity: a clever horror/comedy with smart teen characters. Director John Fawcett and writer Karen Walton draw parallels between adolescence and lycanthropy. Sisters Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) are misfits at their high school, until Ginger begins to change. She starts noticing guys, smoking weed and acting defiant at home, much to the chagrin of her parents. But in Ginger’s case, she faces more than just the usual teen angst and hormonal imbalances after she’s bitten by a werewolf. Perkins and Isabelle are terrific as siblings that are growing apart, as well as Mimi Rogers, in a nice supporting role, as their clueless, fashion-challenged mother. Ginger Snaps loses some momentum in the final third, with an action-oriented climax and conventional ending, but the rest is a solid effort.

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Hulu Streaming

The Dark Hours (2005) Kate Greenhouse stars in this psychological horror film as psychiatrist Samantha Goodman, a woman wrestling with her inner demons. As she deals with the reality of a recently diagnosed brain tumor and her cold marriage, she attempts to soldier on as an objective clinician. After a particularly stressful encounter with a sociopathic patient, she decides to take some time off to sort things out, and heads to a secluded cabin (Is there any other kind?), to rendezvous with her husband and sister. They soon discover an unwanted guest, an escaped patient who wants to make her pay for his perceived mistreatment under her care. Although it’s difficult to watch at times, and falls into some unfortunate clichés (you can guess what happens to the dog), director Paul Fox and writer Wil Zmak keep things tense throughout, leading to a strong finish.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

El Barón del Terror (aka: The Brainiac) (1962) If you strip away the superficial differences, the basic story of this Mexican horror flick wouldn’t have been out of place in a Hammer film. In 1661, Spanish nobleman Vitelius d'Estera (Abel Salazar) is accused of witchcraft, and burned at the stake. Before he succumbs to the flames, he vows revenge against those who sentenced him. Sure enough, he returns 300 years later in a comet that crashes to earth. The demonic baron is a wonderfully unique and silly creation, with a pulsing head and forked tongue, which he uses to suck out the brains of his victims. Can his deadly rampage be stopped? This enjoyable little film exceeded my expectations with a brisk pace and the conviction to follow through with its loopy premise. I hope you’ll like it too.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

The Devil Bat (1940) Director Jean Yarbrough’s Poverty Row cheapie has to be seen to be believed (or disbelieved).  Bela Lugosi stars as mad scientist Paul Carruthers, who vows revenge against a cosmetic magnate and his family for making millions of dollars off of his inventions. Carruthers develops an aftershave that attracts giant killer vampire bats that he created in his lab (unlike the lazy specialists depicted nowadays, those old-timey scientists did it all). The unconvincing puppets (we’re treated to close-up shots of a real fruit bat) swoop down on their unsuspecting prey, tearing out their aftershave-slathered throats. This goofy, but diverting movie tells its story in just 68 minutes, and falls squarely into so-bad-it’s-good territory

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

The Boogens (1981) Judging from such an inauspicious title, you probably shouldn’t expect much, but The Boogens isn’t terrible, it’s just not terribly good. The filmmakers use a little too much restraint – we barely see the titular creatures that lurk in a silver mine. Also, nothing much happens for the first two-thirds of the movie, unless you count spending time with a bunch of dull people as character development. I applaud the low budget monster movie trappings, but not the execution.  

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Macabre (2009) Writer/directors The Mo Brothers prove no good deed goes unpunished. On the way to Jakarta, a group of friends pick up a young woman wandering alone in the rain. They’re welcomed into her house, where her mother repays their kindness with dinner, but the guests realize too late that nothing is at it appears, and find leaving is much more difficult than they imagined. Macabre starts out on a promising note, but relies too heavily on relentless gore and a predictable plot. This well made, but ultimately pointless exercise confuses a “more is more” approach, rather than adopting a more subtle tact. The deadly serious tone could also have benefited from some dark humor to cushion the blows. 

Rating: **. Available on Hulu

From a Whisper to a Scream (aka: The Offspring) (1987) Poor Vincent Price. He deserved better than to be attached to this sub-par horror anthology, directed and co-written by Jeff Burr. Price plays elderly historian Julian White, who introduces four tales (the stories range from awful to mediocre) about a cursed town in Tennessee. Low production values and weak writing hinder the quartet of tales, about necrophilia and incest, a man who’s discovered the secret of immortality, a freak show, and Civil War cannibalism. Poe and Lovecraft’s names are invoked, but it’s tough to see the influence of the authors’ body of work. Even though he’s not given much to work with, Price does his best with the material. My advice: If you’re craving this sort of thing, see one of the Amicus anthologies instead.

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


  1. So Glad you enjoyed Ginger Snaps. Agreed the third act is pretty bad but the rest of the movie makes up for it. I would recommend The 2nd movie, but not the 3rd one. Whisper to Scream sounds like a bad horror anthologyI'll stay away.

    1. I'm glad you liked Ginger Snaps, too! I plan to check out the sequel (but not the 3rd movie) soon. From a Whisper to a Scream could have been good, but even the better segments seemed like they were missing something. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. LOVE El Baron De Terror! So loopy! And, brain eating decades before Hannibal!