Saturday, November 25, 2023

November Quick Picks and Pans


Murder, My Sweet Poster

Murder, My Sweet (1944) Dick Powell plays Raymond Chandler’s enduring private detective, Philip Marlowe, in a plot that involves an ex-con (Mike Mazurki), his missing girlfriend, and some stolen jade. Marlowe becomes unwittingly embroiled in a triangle between a rich elderly magnate (Miles Mander), his trophy wife Helen (Claire Trevor) and his daughter Ann (Anne Shirley). Director Edward Dmytryk maintains a breakneck pace throughout, with smart dialogue and gobs of intrigue, cut with a healthy dash of humor. Being taken for a ride has seldom seemed so enjoyable. 

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

Too Late for Tears Poster

Too Late for Tears (1949) An unhappy married couple, Jane and Alan (played by Lizabeth Scott and Arthur Kennedy), bickering on a lonely highway find their lives turned around when a valise filled with $60,000 in cash ends up in their laps. After successfully evading the intended recipient, they debate about what to do with their new windfall – report it to the police or keep it. It soon becomes apparent that Jane has other plans for the money, until the owner of the money (Dan Duryea) tracks her down. Lizabeth Scott is at her icy best, as a woman who will stop at nothing to keep herself wrapped in luxury. 

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Prime Video and Kanopy



The Strange Woman Poster

The Strange Woman (1946) This not-quite-noir by director Edgar Ulmer is set in early 1800s Bangor, Maine, when it teetered on the precipice of becoming a boomtown. The ever-radiant Hedy Lamarr stars as Jenny Hager, an enigmatic young woman haunted by her father’s poor reputation. She sets out to make a name for herself, manipulating men and women alike with her wiles, eventually assuming control of her deceased husband’s business empire. While she climbs the rungs of the social ladder, she remains a contradiction, ruthless, but with a strong philanthropic streak. Much like its main character, the film sends a mixed message, with its morally conflicted main character, demonized by judgmental and self-righteous townspeople. 

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Prime Video


The Crimson Cult Poster

The Crimson Cult (aka: Curse of the Crimson Altar) (1968) Despite a stellar cast (featuring Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele and Michael Gough), this meandering supernatural thriller never quite gets unstuck from neutral. Robert Manning (Mark Eden), an antiques dealer, investigates the whereabouts of his missing brother, which leads him to the Morely estate, presided over by the family patriarch (Christopher Lee). While staying at the mansion, he falls for Morley’s niece, Eve (Virginia Wetherell), who shares a direct lineage to her infamous ancestor Lavinia (Barbara Steele). Boris Karloff co-stars (and spends the movie looking physically uncomfortable) as Morley’s neighbor, Professor John Marsh. This Tigon production, directed by Vernon Sewell, displays a few moments of almost Hammer-level gothic atmosphere, but suffers from poor pacing, a weak story, and a painfully bland lead. 

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray (Out of print) and Tubi 


Terminus Poster

Terminus (1987) This French-German co-production, directed by Pierre-William Glenn, plays like a pastiche of other postapocalyptic movies, while struggling to say something new. Karen Allen appears as Gus, the driver of a computerized truck who participates in a dangerous game, traveling through a perilous route full of hostile inhabitants. Jürgen Prochnow co-stars in a triple role as a totalitarian leader with an orange wig (“Sir”), a mad scientist (“Doctor”), and a rival truck driver. The truck and its artificial intelligence brain was invented by lab-created child prodigy Mati (Gabriel Damon), who has an ulterior motive for his game. Allen, who’s featured prominently in the credits, has relatively little screen time, and Prochnow looks like he’d rather be in something else. It’s a disappointing mishmash of half-baked ideas with little focus.   

Rating: **. Available on DVD, Prime Video and Tubi


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Horror Month Quick Picks and Pans


The Collingswood Story Poster

The Colingswood Story (2002) The suspense gradually builds in this surprisingly effective microbudget film (shot on Hi-8 tape) from writer/director Michael Costanza. The story is told entirely through the webcam feeds of two 20-somethings in the pre-Zoom, dial-up internet days. After hearing some ominous ramblings from an online psychic (Diane Behrens), Johnny (Johnny Burton) fears his out-of-state girlfriend Rebecca (Stephanie Dees) might be in mortal danger. Johnny learns that the Collingswood, New Jersey house where she’s renting a room was once the site of several grisly murders, perpetrated by a member of a satanic cult. The restrictive sets, defined by the webcams, create a palpable sense of immediacy. The Collingswood Story proves less is often more, maintaining a disturbing atmosphere despite the absence of special effects or elaborate makeup. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Prime Video and Tubi

Seeding of a Ghost Poster

Seeding of a Ghost (1983) This Shaw Brothers Category III movie, directed by Kuen Yeung, helped stretch the boundaries of Hong Kong cinema. A cab driver (Phillip Ko) unwittingly interrupts a practitioner of black magic, resulting in a curse on himself and young wife. When she’s brutally attacked and killed by two young men, he employs the services of the reluctant shaman to awaken her ghost. Revenge is swift, but he learns too late that employing the dark arts has a terrible price. Seeding of a Ghost is an experience you won’t soon forget, entertaining and icky in equal parts. 

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD (Both out of print)

Curse of the Undead Poster

Curse of the Undead (1959) Here’s a real 1950s oddity, a vampire western. Dr. Carter (John Hoyt) and his family are bullied by Buffer (Bruce Gordon), an unscrupulous landowner muscling in on their ranch. When Carter dies under dubious circumstances, his hotheaded revenge-seeking son is gunned down by Buffer. Drake Robey (Michael Pate), a mysterious gunslinger with an aversion to sunlight, offers his protection to the grieving daughter, Dolores (Kathleen Crowley), who’s now the sole owner of the ranch. Meanwhile, a preacher (Eric Fleming) tries to convince Dolores her life is in danger after he learns Robey’s dark secret. I can’t imagine how audiences accustomed to standard westerns received this unusual ahead-of-its-time hybrid.*

* I can’t help but wonder about the still largely untapped potential for horror westerns. 

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


Maniac Poster

Maniac (1980) Joe Spinell (who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced) stars as Frank Zito, a lonely, mentally unstable middle-aged man who preys on unsuspecting women. He murders them for their scalps, which he brings home to dress his mannequins’ heads. He befriends a beautiful fashion photographer (Caroline Munro) who seem oddly smitten by his awkward charms. Director William Lustig’s film is unabashedly sleazy and in poor taste, yet strangely captivating, anchored by Spinell’s unnerving performance. You might want to take a long shower after watching this.   

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Prime Video and Tubi 


Lamb Poster

Lamb (2021) Director/co-writer Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Icelandic folk horror movie is a quiet rumination on parenthood and belongingness. A childless couple, Maria and Ingvar (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) spend their lonely days tending to their farm. Their lives are transformed forever when one of their ewes gives birth to a sheep-human hybrid. They accept the strange creature as their daughter, but tensions rise when Ingvar’s elder brother comes to live with them. It’s an oddly compelling film, featuring some good acting and intriguing themes, but it’s marred by a limp third act that sputters to an end. It comes close to saying something profound, but just misses the mark. 

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

Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary Poster

Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary (1975) Cristina Ferrare stars as the title character, a young woman traveling to Mexico who enjoys painting and a macabre pastime (stabbing her victims and drinking their blood). She meets a man (David Young) along the way, and they seem to hit it off, but her homicidal tendencies get in the way. While she grapples with her impulses, someone else is committing a series of similar murders and a tenacious police inspector is snooping around. Compared to director Juan López Moctezuma’s previous and follow-up efforts (The Mansion of Madness and Alucarda), this tepid thriller seems positively subdued. 

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

Frightmare Poster

Frightmare (1983) When their favorite horror star dies, some over-enthusiastic members of a horror film appreciation society do what any sensible fan would do: break into his mausoleum and steal his corpse. But the once dead Conrad Radzoff (Ferdy Mayne) returns for one last performance when his grieving wife conducts a ritual to revive his body. Mayhem and murder ensue. Frightmare, which borrows extensively from Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, teaches us the predictable lesson that we’re better off not messing with forces we don’t understand, but it has its inspired moments. Mayne is amusing as the conceited, fading star, and Jeffrey Combs appears as one of the misguided fans.   

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Prime Video and Tubi


Anatomy Poster

Anatomy (2000) Paula (Franka Potente), a promising medical student, secures an exclusive opportunity to study at an elite medical school in Heidelberg. Her dream turns into a nightmare when she realizes the cadaver on her dissecting table is a young man she helped on a train. The discovery prompts her to conduct her own research, which in turn uncovers a secret society hiding among the faculty and students. As she delves deeper into mysteries she wasn’t meant to uncover, Paula learns that her newly acquired knowledge could mean her doom. This schmaltzy German production, obviously influenced by Coma (1978), lacks the suspense or subtlety of the earlier film, and the bombastic soundtrack doesn’t do it any favors. 

Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Tubi


Mom Poster

Mom (1989) A reclusive man (Brion James) who happens to be a cannibalistic demon rents a room from an unsuspecting elderly woman (Jeanne Bates). Before you can say, “I’m shocked, shocked. I never saw that coming,” he turns the old lady into one of his own, with the same taste for human flesh. Her bland 30-something son (Mark Thomas Miller) tries his best to dissuade her, but he can only do so much to quell her urges. It’s a fine premise for a horror comedy (similar material was handled in Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive), however, it’s played straight from start to finish, making this a chore to sit through. You’ve been warned. 

Rating: **. Available on DVD (Out of print), and Tubi

Bloodthirsty Butchers Poster

Bloodthirsty Butchers (1970) What if low-budget filmmaker Andy Milligan made his own Sweeney Todd movie? Well, wonder no more… Shot in England, the costumes (likely pilfered from the local community theater group) are a mishmash from different eras, and the plot is incoherent. Lead actor John Miranda looks a bit like a low-rent Peter Cushing, but without the acting chops. Perplexingly, Milligan chooses to focus mostly on the peripheral characters and their boring lives, loves and squabbles, instead of the human meat pies (arguably, the raison d'être of a Sweeney Todd film). As with many flicks from Milligan’s oeuvre, your mileage may vary. 

Rating *½. Available on Blu-ray (Included in The Dungeon of Andy Milligan box set), DVD and Tubi