Highway 61 (1991) Director/co-writer Bruce McDonald’s bizarre odyssey (his style could be described as David Lynch by way of Jim Jarmusch) is a road trip like no other. Pokey Jones (Don McKellar) is a socially inept barber living in a small town in Ontario, Canada. His humdrum life takes an interesting turn when he discovers a dead heavy metal musician in his backyard, and meets up with Jackie (Valerie Buhagiar), a roadie for the band. They head south to New Orleans, with coffin in tow, while pursued by a mysterious man who might be the devil (Earl Pastk). Like any good road trip, it’s full of weird surprises along the way, accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack. It also features a host of cool cameos, including Peter Breck and punk icon Jello Biafra. To describe the myriad twists and turns would spoil most of the fun. Highway 61 is best experienced with as little foreknowledge as possible. Note: Big thanks to Michael Denney (follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWDenney) for recommending this weird, wonderful little film.
Rating: ****. Available on DVD
Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) This 1978 made-for-TV movies starts with a goofy premise, but has the conviction to follow through. The cast plays it straight throughout, without resorting to camp, which works to the movie’s advantage. Richard Crenna and Yvette Mimieux star as Mike and Betty Barry, an ordinary couple in an ordinary suburban family. After the family dog meets an untimely end, their grief-stricken kids adopt “Lucky,” a cute German shepherd puppy with an evil streak. Not long after Lucky enters their household, odd things begin to happen, with tragedy befalling anyone who gets in his way. Sure, it’s silly, but I dug it. Maybe you will too. Hammer enthusiasts take note: Martine Beswick appears in the prologue as the leader of a satanic cult.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD
The Angry Red Planet (1959) A rocket from an ill-fated Mars mission returns to Earth with half of the crew missing. The other half isn’t doing so well, either, with Dr. Iris Ryan (Nora Hayden) clinging to her sanity, and Col. Thomas O'Bannion (Gerald Mohr) teetering near death. You might think it was a progressive touch on the part of the filmmakers to include a female astronaut among the crew, but she’s mainly there to scream and endure sexist remarks from her fellow space travelers. Most of the story is told in flashback, as the intrepid explorers encounter hostile flora and fauna on the red planet. In an interesting touch, the scenes that take place outside the ship on the Martian landscape are tinted red (pro tip, taken from personal experience: don’t watch this when you have a headache), but the real highlight is a rat-bat-spider thing that terrorizes the crew. The basic concept (i.e., astronauts run into malevolent alien forces) has been recycled numerous times, sometimes to better effect, but it’s interesting to see one of the earlier examples.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime
Blood Freak (1972) A drug-addled drifter (Steve Hawkes) eats some experimental poultry and transforms into a bloodthirsty turkey man (only his head changes). He goes on a rampage, abducting young women and draining their blood. The best part of the movie is host Brad F. Grinter (who also directed and co-wrote the film), who pops in like a low-rent Rod Serling, to comment on what we’re seeing. Was it all a hallucination? Did anyone really die? Who knows. Blood Freak has some dubious entertainment value; just don’t expect body horror along the lines of Cronenberg. I’m not sure if this was meant to be taken seriously or it was intended as a joke (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes), but if you sit through the whole thing, the joke’s probably on you.
Rating: 2 stars. Available on DVD