Tuesday, August 31, 2021

August Quick Picks and Pans


101 Reykjavik Poster

101 Reykjavik (2000) 30-year-old, unemployed slacker Hlynur (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) lives an aimless existence, living with his middle-aged mother in a small flat. Instead of looking for work, he spends his nights drinking, going to parties and getting laid. Things take an unexpected change when his mother’s new lesbian companion Lola (Victoria Abril) comes to live with them. He becomes infatuated with the free-wheeling Lola, in spite of the fact that he isn’t exactly her type. Our nominal protagonist isn’t the most likable, but that’s the point, as we’re left to ponder whether Hlynur is capable of change. Writer/director Baltasar Kormákur’s amusing little film features some funny dialogue and an abundance of awkward situations. Don’t expect a travelogue-style depiction of Iceland, full of cheerful residents and breathtaking scenery. Instead, It’s an emphatically unglamorous, often bleak, snapshot of life in Iceland prior to the tourist boom.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

The Vampire Bat Poster

The Vampire Bat (1933) Anyone looking for a horror movie will be disappointed in Frank R. Strayer’s low-key mystery/thriller with comic elements. The denizens of a German village are up in arms after a series of deaths, in which the bodies were drained of blood. Some begin pointing the finger at vampires, while others suspect vampire bats. Herman Gleib (Dwight Frye) a mentally challenged man with an unfortunate (in the eyes of the superstitious villagers) fondness for bats, becomes the prime suspect. Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray Melvyn Douglas headline a superb cast, which also includes Maude Eburne in an amusing turn as a hypochondriac. It’s a mostly enjoyable romp that only falters during the tepid climax.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Kanopy

Blood Poster

Blood (1973) Set in the late 1800s, this $25,000 wonder from writer/director Andy Milligan is nothing, if not ambitious. Dr. Orlovsky (Allan Berendt), the son of a werewolf, lives in an arranged marriage to Regina (Hope Stansbury) the daughter of Dracula. Orlovsky raises deadly carnivorous plants with the hope of creating a serum that will sustain his wife. The film consists of mostly tight shots (with a few medium shots thrown in), likely to conceal the fact that there was no money to build elaborate sets. The dialogue, makeup and acting are uniformly terrible, but it’s presented with such naïve exuberance that you can’t help but admire it on some level. It’s an exercise in sheer chutzpah that has to be seen to be disbelieved. 

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray (part of The Dungeon of Andy Milligan Collection) and Tubi


Scorpion with Two Tails

Scorpion with Two Tails (1982) After experiencing a nightmare where her archaeologist husband Arthur (John Saxon) is brutally murdered, Joan Barnard’s (Elvire Audray) bad dream becomes reality. She travels to Italy, with Arthur’s lab assistant, Mike (Paolo Malco) to investigate Arthur’s death. Her search leads her to some Etruscan ruins that he was investigating. This slow-moving neo-giallo (with some supernatural elements thrown in) from director Sergio Martino is an exercise in tedium, despite the lurid subject matter. The leads are bland, and John Saxon is barely in the movie. Van Johnson is similarly wasted as Joan’s heroin-smuggling father, who owes the mob millions of dollars. Don’t bother. 

Rating: **. Available on DVD

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Serial Mom

Serial Mom Poster

(1994) Written and directed by John Waters; Starring: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Mink Stole and Mary Jo Catlett; Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Rating: ***½

“‘All My Trials’ was the chapter in Shock Value about going to murder trials all over the country, and sort of the sequel to that was in Crackpot, which is called ‘Going to Jail,’ when I took that even further and got a job teaching film in an actual prison… and Serial Mom was part three from that.” – John Waters (from 1999 DVD commentary)

Beverly Suthpin and Victim

Come on, admit it. Other people piss you off. Sure, not everyone, and certainly not all the time, but if you had the power to stop certain behaviors, you’d probably stop them, right? …Or perhaps not. Thanks to many years of internalizing societal norms, morals and inhibitions, you’d probably just grin and bear it. But what if that flimsy wall of civility suddenly collapsed? John Waters’ Serial Mom answers that question with his antihero protagonist, played with maniacal exuberance by Kathleen Turner. While the production values are up a few notches from his earliest efforts, it continued to incorporate the subversive elements his fans have come to know and love. Waters viewed Serial Mom as “Female Trouble, part two,” incorporating his lifelong fascination with true crime (which included attending murder trials across the country). Serial Mom was filmed in the same suburban Baltimore neighborhood where Waters and his muse Divine grew up. Keeping a direct link to his earlier films, he included his usual bunch of regulars and semi-regulars, including Mink Stole, Ricki Lake and Traci rds.

Beverly and Family

On the outside, Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is a stereotypical, innocuous suburban mom who dresses like June Cleaver, disapproves of swearing, and talks to the birds outside her window. She’s a couple of decades behind the times, a cheerful and genteel caricature of the ideal ‘50s housewife, a doting mother to her grown children (Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard, in his debut film) and a loving wife to her straitlaced dentist husband Eugene (Sam Waterston). But there’s something seething just beneath the surface, as indicated by her pastimes of collecting serial killer memorabilia,*/** and making obscene crank calls to her unsuspecting neighbor Dottie (Mink Stole). Her pet peeves, such as chewing gum, not fastening a seatbelt, or refusing to recycle, become punishable offenses,*** worthy of dire consequences. When her daughter Misty (Ricki Lake) is stood up by her narcissistic boyfriend, he becomes yet another person to end up on her ever-growing murder list. The role was based on the director’s own mother (minus the homicidal urges). According to Waters, when she screened it, she commented that she identified with Turner’s character (“All the things they said I hate, I hate.”). Turner has a great time with her character, turning her charm on and off like a switch, vacillating from sweet-tempered to merciless. When Beverly eventually goes to trial, she basks in the ensuing media circus, and instead of being a pariah, becomes a counter-culture celebrity (a common Waters theme). In the eyes of her family, she quickly transforms from an embarrassment to a hero.

* Fun Fact #1: When Eugene Suthpin (Sam Waterston) browses his wife’s serial killer scrapbook, a Christmas card created by John Wayne Gacy can be briefly seen amongst the various photos and newspaper clippings. According to Waters, the cast never knew about the origin of the card.

** Fun Fact #2: Waters himself has a brief cameo, as the voice of Ted Bundy on a tape in Beverly’s collection.

*** Fun Fact #3: Also watch for Patricia Hearst, appearing as a jury member, who commits a “fashion mortal sin” (in Waters’ words) by wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

Beverly and Chip's Math Teacher

There’s something deliciously cathartic about watching many of the offenders on Beverly’s list get their due. In a scene that ardent genre fans can relate to, she meets her son’s math teacher,* who states he’s a good student, hard-working and active in class discussions, but in the same breath thinks there’s something wrong with Chip (and by extension Beverly’s parenting) due to his fascination with horror movies. Waters makes it clear whose side he’s on, illustrating how school administrators and reactionary parents often focus on the wrong things, while displaying affection for his exploitation movie influences,**. It’s not enough to be a good student or have a group of friends who get you. In order to truly belong to society, you must conform within a narrow range of expected parameters.

* Fun Fact #4: The scene where Beverly runs over her son’s math teacher was filmed at Towson High School in Baltimore County. It represented a sort of revenge for the mistreatment his friend Divine (aka: Harris Glen Milstead) experienced while attending the school as a teenager.

** Fun Fact #5: Horror and exploitation fans will enjoy clips from some of Waters’ celluloid heroes, including Strait-Jacket (William Castle), Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis), and Deadly Weapons (Doris Wishman).

Beverly Crank Calls Dottie

Waters has fun demolishing the façade of domestic complacency and tranquility, as Beverly awakens something that was always dormant. It’s a comforting thing that most of us would never go to the murderous extent she takes things, but it doesn’t mean the message is lost. It’s an invitation to be more genuine and authentic with ourselves and others. If there’s anything that deserves to die, it’s rote obligation to play nice with the people we despise, along with the unhealthy repression of the things that bring us joy. Waters reminds us it’s okay to like something that’s frowned upon by “polite” society, as long as it’s not harming anyone.

Beverly's Scrapbook

Serial Mom revels in uncovering the hypocrisies of suburban life. We’re quick to condemn people for what they watch and read, while being dishonest with our own preferences. When one of Beverly’s neighbors visits a video store, she expresses her disgust at the staff, watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, instead preferring her “family” movies. As we soon learn, her pious exterior hides an individual who’s less than squeaky clean. Beverly’s husband Eugene (played with deadpan sincerity by Sam Waterston) takes an almost casual pro-death penalty stance for criminals, until his wife becomes the prime suspect for a string of murders in their community. Capital punishment only stops being abstract idea when it affects him personally

The Suthpin Family

Compared to the guerilla filmmaking of his earliest features, its (modest by Hollywood standards) $13 million budget must have seemed exorbitant to Waters. Sure, it’s a far cry from Pink Flamingos, (the late Divine, David Lochary and Edith Massey are conspicuously absent) but that doesn’t mean Waters lost his fondness for bad taste (including jokes about serial killers, fetishes, and female anatomy) or rooting for the underdogs. Serial Mom is a more refined (if that’s the appropriate word) look at the same themes he’s always employed, albeit in a more digestible format for a broader audience. After all, what could be more subversive than Waters convincing a major studio that his sensibilities could be thrust upon the greater public? 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Announcing The Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon

The 3rd Hammer-Amicus Blogathon

Due to the pandemic, 2020 was a difficult year for many. For most of us, that meant putting our plans (big and small) on the back burner, while we dreamed of better days ahead. Although we’ve seen a glimmer of hope in 2021, it’s been a trifle premature to celebrate everything getting back to normal (whatever your concept of “normal” is). One way to safely enjoy some of the little things has been the return to co-hosting blogathons this year. In this spirit, my blogging partner Gill Jacob (of Realweegiemidget Reviews) and I proudly present the Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon!

Barbara Shelley - Quatermass and the Pit

If you’ve participated in either of the past Hammer-Amicus Blogathons, welcome back. If this is your first time joining us, we’re glad to have you aboard. Either way, be sure to read our rules below, as a few items have changed slightly. We would also like to emphasize that this blogathon is not strictly for bloggers (No blog? No problem!). In addition to blog posts, participants may submit a link to their Instagram or Facebook post, podcast, YouTube video, or whatever. As long as it’s original content and covers some facet of Hammer or Amicus productions, you’re good to go. As always, we encourage you to take a deep dive into the Hammer and Amicus catalogs. The more obscure, the better.


Ingrid Pitt - The House that Dripped Blood

Now, since this is October, which has historically been the month to feature exclusively horror on this blog, you can probably guess where I’m headed with my post. I realize, however, that horror isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I thought this would be the perfect time to remind everyone that the Hammer and Amicus catalogs featured much, much more, dipping their feet in almost every genre imaginable. Here are some Examples:

Danger Route Poster

Action/Spy Thriller: Danger Route (1967) (Amicus)


Sword of Sherwood Forest Poster

Adventure/Swashbuckler: Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) (Hammer)

On the Buses Poster

Comedy: On the Buses (1971) (Hammer)

Cash on Demand Poster

Crime: Cash on Demand (1961) (Hammer)

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger Poster

 Drama: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) (Hammer)


Stolen Face Poster

Film Noir: Stolen Face (1952) (Hammer)


Just for Fun Poster

Musical: Just for Fun (1963) (Amicus)


At the Earth's Core Poster

Science Fiction: At the Earth’s Core (1976) (Amicus)

The above examples were only a mere sampling of the titles that were produced by Hammer and Amicus over the years.

Hammer Films 

You can find a complete list of Hammer films here 


Amicus Productions

…and a list of Amicus films here.


What: The Third Hammer-Amicus Blogathon


Who: Hosted by Yours Truly (Barry P.) and Gill Jacob


Where: Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews


When: October 22-24, 2021


How: Please read the rules below, and send me your post request (review, podcast, etc…) via email (barry_cinematic@yahoo.com), Twitter (@barry_cinematic), or by commenting below. You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, or through her blog’s Contact Me page. (Be sure to include a link to your blog, your blog’s title, and your preferred name).



1.     You may review ANY Hammer or Amicus film or TV show. Hammer and Amicus-related book reviews are fine.

2.     We will allow a maximum of ONE duplicate film title, UNLESS you are covering a series of films or a retrospective of an actor/filmmaker’s work.

3.     A maximum of TWO entries will be permitted. (You may choose one post from Hammer and one from Amicus …or both can be Hammer or Amicus. The choice is yours!)

4.     When responding with your choice, be sure to add your Twitter handle or a link to your Facebook page so we can promote your post.

5.     Please choose one of the banners below to display on your blog.

6.     A full list of blogs, podcasters and review choices will be posted on a separate page and updated regularly.

7.     Only original, never-before-published posts will be accepted.

8.     Send a link to your post/podcast/video to Gill and me during one of the days of the blogathon.

9.     Note: we will publish all the links on both blogs, with daily updates on October 22nd, 23rd and 24th. If you plan to participate, but you’re running late, please let us know as soon as possible, so we can post a last-minute update.

10.  Please also note: Gill and I have already claimed the following the titles below. As a result, we will only accept one additional write-up for each of these films (see Rule 2 above).


Barry at Cinematic Catharsis – Hammer: Demons of the Mind (1972)


Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews –Hammer: The Lady Vanishes (1979)

Please choose one of the following banners:

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon Banner-Tales from the Crypt

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon - Captain Kronos

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon - Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon - Twins of Evil

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon - The Land that Time Forgot

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon - The Lady Vanishes

We’re looking forward to your submissions. Be creative, and above all, have fun!


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Russia Month Quick Picks and Pans


The Cranes are Flying Poster

The Cranes are Flying (1957) Veronika (Tatyana Samoylova) is in love with Boris (Aleksey Batalov), but their romance is interrupted when he enlists in the army. After her family’s home is bombed by the Germans, she’s forced to move in with Boris’ family, and she’s subsequently railroaded into a loveless marriage with his ne’er do well cousin, Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin). This moving film, anchored by Samoylova’s powerful, emotionally complex performance, starts on an ebullient note following two young lovers whose lives are forever changed by the crushing reality of World War II. It’s a touching portrait of one woman’s resolve in the face of adversity, leading to a conclusion that’s at once heartbreaking and hopeful. Sergey Urusevskiy’s inventive camerawork/composition almost becomes a character in itself, providing an intimate view of Veronika’s sad life, and providing scope and poignance to the story. 

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

Moscow-Cassiopea Poster
Teenagers in the Universe Poster

Moscow – Cassiopea (1973); and Teenagers in the Universe (1974) These two energetic sci-fi adventure films from director Richard Viktorov are squarely aimed at kids, but they’re fun for all ages. The first part chronicles the exploits of seven elite teenage cosmonauts as they train and embark on a 27-year voyage to explore another star system, while the second part concerns their escapades on the planet Alpha Kassiopea. Due to a happy accident, the crew of the spaceship Zarya fall into a wormhole, reaching their destination in only year (While they remain kids, their counterparts on Earth are in their 40s). When they reach their destination, they encounter a planet dominated by androids who force people to be happy. 

It’s an inspired mixture of hard science fiction (discussing the perils of relativistic space travel), with a touch of whimsy (Think the original Star Trek series, mixed with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. No, really!). If not for the time and origin, both movies could have been an underground hit, with their trippy visuals, surreal touches and absurdist predilections (hopefully some enterprising programmer can see their potential for midnight screenings). There’s nothing else quite like it. With all due respect to Tarkovsky’s somber classic Solaris, look no further for a more enjoyable (and mind-bending) space odyssey.   

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Kanopy  


To the Stars by Hard Ways Poster

To the Stars by Hard Ways (aka: Through the Thorns to the Stars, or Per Aspera ad Astra) (1980) This is another fascinating science fiction film from director Richard Viktorov (completed by his son Nikolay Viktorov). The crew of a 23rd century deep space mission encounters a derelict spacecraft full of corpses. They find one survivor, Niyya (Yelena Metyolkina), an artificial person who was part of an unknown experiment. She’s brought back to Earth, where she befriends a young cadet (Vadim Ledogorov) and learns more about Earthly customs. One of the film’s most interesting conceits is that the featured starship crew’s mission is to help out planets in crisis (sort of the antithesis of Dark Star) to reverse their ecological damage, making them habitable once again. They face their biggest challenge with Niyya’s home planet Dessa, controlled by a despotic businessman, who profits off of the misfortunes of his fellow citizens. Yelena Metyolkina is effective in her role as the enigmatic, childlike Niyya, who only wants to find her place in the cosmos. Although the film’s reach often exceeds its grasp, it has its heart in the right place, depicting an epic scope on what was obviously a meager budget. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Amazon Prime (for rental) and Kanopy

Hipsters Poster

Hipsters (2008) It’s hard not to be swept away by Valeriy Todorovskiy’s infectious musical set in Moscow, circa 1955, depicting counter-culture at the height of the Cold War, when playing a saxophone, wearing colorful clothes, or having big hair made you instantly suspect. Mels (Anton Shagin), an ardent member of the Youth Communist League, meets Polly (Oksana Akinshina) the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately for Mels, she’s from the wrong side of the tracks, ideologically speaking, hanging out with a bunch of freewheeling hipsters. In an attempt to win her over, repressed Mels transforms himself into what he previously hated – discovering in the process that he enjoys the new version of himself. It soon becomes a battle of wills between Mels’ former, purposely square comrades, and his new, uninhibited crowd. Viewers looking for an historically accurate history lesson from Hipsters, should probably search elsewhere. Todorovskiy simply wants us to have a good time, and delivers on that promise.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Kanopy

The Golden Horns Poster

The Golden Horns (aka: Baba Yaga) (1973) You might question your sanity while watching this charming fantasy film, aimed at kids (and kids at heart), but you certainly won’t be bored. The title refers to a magical buck with golden antlers, who serves as the protector for the weak and downtrodden. He comes to the aid of a mother, looking for her lost twins (who were turned into deer by a mischievous Baba Yaga, played by Georgiy Millyar, a witch who travels in a shack that walks on chicken feet). Viktor Makarov and Aleksandr Rou’s cinematic fairy tale is packed with colorful characters, surreal images and goofy songs galore. If you’re looking for something on the sillier side, this might scratch that itch. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime (for rental)


The Mermaid - Lake of the Dead Poster

The Mermaid: Lake of the Dead (2018) Roma and Marina (Efim Petrunin and Viktoriya Agalakova) are about to get married. During his bachelor party at a lake house, he meets a strange young woman, and becomes entranced by her hypnotic effect. She repeatedly appears, asking him, “Do you love me?” while becoming entrenched in his dreams and creating a waking nightmare. Mermaid takes its cues from J-horror with its premise, an unshakable curse, and not unlike many of its American contemporaries, relies on a few too many jump scares. I wouldn’t quite describe the antagonist as a mermaid (more like a vengeful spirit), although it’s close enough. It might not provide a lot of surprises, but there are worse ways to spend an evening. 

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


Nails Poster

Nails (2003) A hitman (Alexander Shevchenko), haunted by his terrible deeds, tries to find a way to purge the images from his head. His solution: self-trepanation with nails and a power drill (It goes without saying this isn’t for the squeamish). The hallucinatory black-and-white imagery changes to color after his (ahem) personal alterations. This ultra-low-budget production from writer/director Andrey Iskanov (who also handled the decent makeup effects) took Eraserhead, Tetsuo the Iron Man and Brain Damage, swirled them together, you might get something approximating this. Even if it’s more than a bit derivative, this bewildering, occasionally exhilarating mix succeeds more than it fails.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime (for rental)