Vault of Horror-1973

Vault of Horror-1973

Director-Roy Ward Baker

Starring-Curd Jurgens, Daniel Massey

Scott’s Review #1,038

Reviewed June 26, 2020

Grade: A-

Horror anthologies are usually a vast treat and a reminiscent memory of childhood afternoons watching Twilight Zone re-runs on television. This is hardly much of a stretch since Vault of Horror (1973) is a British anthology based on Tales from the Crypt (1972), which in turn was based on stories EC Comics series. Each chapter is superior storytelling providing bloodthirsty horror viewers with suspense, adventure, and surprise endings.

Below is a summary, review, and rating of each vignette.

Framing Story- A

Events get off to an intriguing start as one-by-one five businessmen enter an elevator in a corporate office in downtown London. They are taken to the basement level though none of them has pressed that floor and emerge to find a gentlemen’s club. With no way to get back onto the elevator they begin to drink, each discussing a reoccurring nightmare. This segment immediately grasps the viewer as we ponder questions. Is someone holding the men there for a reason, who is behind it and why? Are the men’s nightmares nightmare’s or are they revealing deeper secrets?

Midnight Mess- A

Harold Rodgers (Daniel Massey) is a suave, well-dressed man who tracks down his missing sister Donna (real-life sister, Anna Massey!) in a peculiar village. He fiendishly kills her to acquire her share of their father’s inheritance. Working up an appetite he dines at a local restaurant who serves blood soup and blood clots as the main course. The village is inhabited by sophisticated vampires and his sister is one of them! This vignette is my favorite as the restaurant decor is warm and toasty, the village provides a stylish ambiance, and clever writing exists throughout. The bloody feast the eatery serves is a devilish delight in macabre humor. And the fangs are great.

The Neat Job- A

Arthur Critchit (Terry-Thomas) is an elegant man suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. He is married to Eleanor (Glynis Johns), a trophy wife, who despite wanting to please her husband, is a lousy housekeeper. Constantly berated for being incompetent, Eleanor loses it and kills Arthur with a hammer. She proudly cuts him to bits and stores his remains in glass jars, all neatly labeled. This story is simply delicious, offering elegant British furniture to salivate over and macabre, witty comedy as the viewer eagerly anticipates what Eleanor will do when she finally snaps, and we just know she will snap. Bravo!

The Trick’ll Kill You- A-

Sebastian (Curd Jurgens) is a magician on holiday in India, where he and his wife Inez (Dawn Addams) are searching for new tricks for their act. Frustrated, they encounter a girl charming a rope out of a basket with a flute. The couple persuades her to come to their hotel room where they murder her and steal the enchanted rope. They gleefully plot how to incorporate the rope into their act assuring them of riches. Inez experiments with climbing the rope only to disappear with a scream. An ominous patch of blood appears on the ceiling, and the rope coils round Sebastian’s neck and hangs him. Their smirking victim reappears alive in the bazaar. This vignette provides a good glimpse of the Far East and is culturally wonderful. The story is compelling though a let down from the earlier entries.

Bargain in Death- B+

Maitland (Michael Craig) is buried alive as part of an insurance scam concocted with his friend Alex (Edward Judd). They each plan to double-cross and kill the other to get the money. Two trainee doctors bribe a gravedigger to dig up a corpse to help with their studies. When Maitland’s coffin is opened, he jumps up gasping for air, and the gravedigger kills him. At the same time Alex’s car crashes into a tree and he dies. In humorous comedy, when trying to close the sale of the corpse the gravedigger apologizes to the doctors for the damage to the head. This segment is more comical than the others and a nice aside is that the trainee doctors are named Tom and Jerry. The plot is a bit convoluted and doesn’t succeed like the other stories.

Drawn and Quartered- A

Moore (Tom Baker) is a struggling painter living in Haiti. When he learns that his paintings have been sold for high prices by art dealers after being praised by a critic, he goes to a voodoo priest for help exacting revenge. He is instructed that whatever he paints or draws can be harmed by damaging its image. Returning to London, Moore paints portraits of the three men who cheated him and mutilates the paintings to exact his revenge. After he displays his own portrait, each one, including Moore, suffers an agonizing experience.  This story is top-notch, and the loss of the eyes and the hands are the highlights in fun.

As the film wraps, we learn the mysterious puzzle involving the five men in satisfying form. Vault of Horror (1973) is a horror anthology that hardly disappoints. I am eager to watch this one again which is a major achievement for a cinematic offering to have on a viewer.

Night of the Demon-1957

Night of the Demon-1957

Director-Jacques Tourneur 

Starring-Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins

Scott’s Review #1,037

Reviewed June 25, 2020

Grade: B+

There is something very soothing about 1950’s British horror films. Whether it’s the intelligence, the accents, or the elements, they differ from American horror films of the decade. Arguably, they are just better. The horror genre, already existing in cinema for decades, creates a clever story about a curse. Night of the Demon (1957) provides great visual effects within its black and white cinematography that are effective and make the look work well. That said, the hype surrounding this film as one of the greatest horror films of all time is unwarranted.

When I think of the greatest of all horror films, selections such as Halloween (1978), The Shining (1980), and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) come to the forefront on the American front while Peeping Tom (1960) and Frenzy (1972) must be mentioned as for British films. Night of the Demon, while above average and having risen to prominence and rediscovery as a cult classic doesn’t completely deliver the goods.

To provide a bit of contextual background, the film was plagued with issues and differences of opinion that are plausible proof of messiness upon dissection. The original ninety-five-minute British feature was trimmed down to eighty-three minutes and re-titled Curse of the Demon for the United States market, playing there in 1958 as the second half of a double feature. Additionally, there was a dispute between director and producer whether to show the creature on-screen. Producer edited footage before release which results in continuity issues. Night of the Demon is the pure British version.

Dana Andrews, best known for The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946, stars as Doctor John Holden, an American psychology professor who visits Britain to attend a conference led by the deceased Professor Harrington. Harrington is killed by electrocution after seeing a creature emerge from the trees. His niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins) also arrives to attend her uncle’s funeral and teams with Holden to determine a connection between Harrington and satanic cultist, Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). The cultist lives with his mother in a lavish stately manner. 

Let’s outline what works best in Night of the Demon. The visual aspects are superb and deserving of accolades. During a party at the Karswell home, the cultist wills a swirling windstorm to develop that is as frightening as it is realistic. Of curiosity is whether Alfred Hitchcock studied this scene to a similar one in The Birds (1963) where the female star shuffles a group of children at a party in from danger. The scene is professional and authentic.

The climax of the film, amid a dark train track, is one of the best. The ambiance is frightful and well-paced, just what a finale to a film is supposed to be. Karswell, eventually followed by a piece of parchment with runic writing on it, supposedly part of an ancient curse, is terrifying. It’s like he is being chased and pursued. Holden can pass the curse (meant for him) back to Karswell, who is inevitably ripped to ribbons by a speeding train. Why is a scene of peril amid a train always so compelling? The sense of adventure, dread, horror, and the macabre, all reconvene in this important scene. Naturally, the creature reappears.

The romance between Holden and Joanna is mediocre at best and unnecessary to the main plot of the film. It’s as if someone decided a romance was needed between the male and female principles and Holden and Joanna were it. There is little chemistry nor do the duo need to be romantically intertwined- it serves little purpose other than providing them with a reason to sleuth together. The decision seems more like a measure of cinematic tradition of that time than any real story purpose. It’s not an irritant, nor is it a positive.

The creature is not scary, and the film would have been better leaving it out. Sometimes, especially in horror, what is not seen is scarier than what is scene. The creature is preliminary and amateurish at best and provides no fright value. It appears to be made of clay or plastic.

Night of the Demon (1957) is a horror film that I would like to see again and perhaps study deeper. It contains rich special effects and wonderful black and white cinematography that enrich the visual treats. The story of an ancient curse and a riveting speeding train climax that would make Hitchcock take notice are praiseworthy. But I still do not understand the greatest of the horror greats categorization.

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural-1973

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural-1973

Director-Richard Blackburn

Starring-Cheryl Smith. Leslie Gilb

Scott’s Review #1,036

Reviewed June 22, 2020

Grade: A-

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) is a bizarre and fascinating horror film and a great example of 1970’s experimental cinema. At the risk of stating that there may be a tad too much exploration going on since aspects go in many directions, the film is the perfect watch for a late weekend night extravaganza of the weird and wild and is a joy to view. The fact that I am still thinking about the film days after watching is a tremendous sign. Vampires, creepy clown-like figures, a reverend, a blood-thirsty woman, and a thirteen-year-old girl make up the cast of unusual characters to feast ones’ eyes upon in delight.

During the Prohibition-era of southern United States of America, a young, angelic girl named Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith) slips out one night to look for her gangster father after an anonymous and cryptic tip. Lila is someone of note in her small town, envied by many in the church where she preaches with the local Reverend (Richard Blackburn). She treks along swampy territory to the strange town, Astaroth where her father is being held. After Lila is attacked by vampires a strange woman named Lemora (Lesley Gilb) helps her and gives her a place to reside, but Lila soon begins to wonder if Lemora is a friend or a foe.

For such a low-budget affair the visual details are superb. The photography and the use of lighting are particularly honorable. Many characters ooze with glowing fright especially Lemora. The ghostly white color enhances her blood red lips offering a pasty and haunting image that is ghastly to the eyes. If done at a sloppy level the result could easily have been juvenile or comedic (not in a good way), but the elements fall together in an easy flow that combines horrific details that fascinate.

The best characters are Lila and Lemora and their scenes together are immense. Gilb is the standout and brings a monotone, wide-eyed performance reminiscent of a talking Bride of Frankenstein. She frightens the audience, to say nothing of Lila, and is a fantastic villain. Beautiful and erotic, her sexuality is in question. Lila, young, fresh-faced, and developing, is ripe for the picking by Lemora, but I was perplexed if Lemora wanted her blood, or her other parts. The vague, but suggested lesbianism and sexual abuse of a child only enhances the mystique and macabre qualities. When Lemora bathes Lila this is where it’s most evident.

I adore films that challenge the norm and attempt to break the mold of your typical carbon copy film or a formulaic script, but there is none to be had in Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural and it keeps the viewer guessing. Comparisons to the brilliant The Night of the Hunter (1955) have been made and while I don’t quite see that, a chilling fairy tale concept exists. Think Hansel and Gretel, the Brothers Grimms German fairy tale, sans Hansel. Lila’s pigtails and little girl dress give her a child’s vulnerability and appearance.

While deserving of credit for bravery and letting loose from a story perspective, there is a measure of disorder and confusion as to what is really going on that perplexed me. Blackburn, who also plays the Reverend, offers many creatures who are on the attack, coming out of nowhere to scare Lila. Unclear is who they are (or were!) and what their motivations are. Why does Lemora like to feed on children? Is she holding Lila’s father captive to lure her into her clutches? Is Lila’s blood more desirable then other children’s? The plot points are uneven but maybe that doesn’t really matter.

A suggestion, if plausible, is to check out the uncut version of the film. I saw the cut version which was trimmed by nearly forty minutes and released theatrically in late 1974. Tough to find, I wonder if this would provide more clarity to several plot items. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) was heavily criticized by the Catholic Legion of Decency who deemed it “anti-Catholic”, which is more than enough reason to give it a whirl.

Richard Jewell-2019

Richard Jewell-2019

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates

Scott’s Review #1,035

Reviewed June 19, 2020

Grade: B

With most Clint Eastwood films, especially in the latter part of his career, one should expect a mainstream story with a conservative edge. The man has lost his touch with age, unlike greats like Martin Scorsese. This may not always make for the most cutting-edge cinematic experience, but the results can still be compelling. Richard Jewell (2019) was not on my radar but for the last minute, surprising Oscar nomination for Kathy Bates. I am still smarting that she presumably took the last spot over the snubbed Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers-2019). But I digress.

As anticipated, the project has a predictable edge and a safe feel, Eastwood clearly sending a nasty note to the media and to the FBI shaming them for their corruption and ineptness. The biography, centering around the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and its aftermath during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, tells the story in a nicely paced way but feels light, pulling too much of a right-wing slant. Lead actor Paul Walter Hauser is the best part of the film, providing empathy and heroism to his character, the one and only Richard Jewell.

Our title character is an overweight, average-looking man who lives with his mother in a modest apartment in Georgia. He works as a supply clerk in a small law firm where he meets arrogant attorney Watson Bryant (Rockwell). They bond over video games and become fast friends. The time is 1986. Jewell, aspiring to become a police officer, lands a job as a security guard at Piedmont College, where he is subsequently fired for overstepping his grounds. Finally, he begins a job running security for a concert series near the Olympic games. He has a keen eye for law enforcement and is passionate about doing his job well.

Hauser, who had supporting roles in I, Tonya (2017) and in BlacKkKlansman (2018), has reached his breakout role.  Hauser makes the character likable and loyal. Law and order are his passions and he eat, sleeps, and breathes the life. The actor makes the audience know that Richard is not dumb. He is highly intelligent but has not been handed an easy life. The relationship with his mother is touching and he genuinely wants to protect those who he serves.

As far as the supporting roles go, Rockwell is fantastic as Watson, who ultimately defends Richard against the FBI. With wit, sarcasm, and outrage, his passion comes across on screen as a gruff but loyal friend. Other big-name stars are not as lucky with their roles. Jon Hamm plays FBI Agent Tom Shaw, a made-up character who wants to railroad Richard at all costs. He tricks Richard into stating a confession that he records. Olivia Wilde is Kathy Scruggs, an unpleasant journalist who will trade sex for stories. The character is unlikable, and rumors abound that the writing is sharply embellished. Both Hamm and Wilde suffer from one-note characters.

Let’s discuss Kathy Bates’s performance. Bates is a legendary actress and well-regarded. In film, her best role is of the maniacal Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990). Throughout recent years she has brightened the small screen with daring and unique roles on American Horror Story. Her role as the sympathetic and kindly Bobi Jewell is not one of her best. There is nothing wrong with her performance, but the character never has a big memorable scene.

Unclear is the historical accuracy of the story and my hunch is that liberties could offer good drama. Inexplicable is the omission of anything related to the real bomber, who is never mentioned. What were his motivations? Whatever happened to him? Viewers can do their own research, but a real miss is to not include this. The story only centers around Richard’s accusers and attempted railroading simply because he fits the profile of a bomber. The film could have gone further.

Also, viewers are left with no knowledge that Richard traditionally put a rose on one of the bombing victims grave or other niceties that could have been included. Why did Eastwood need to hammer home the point that Richard was fretting about the perception that he may have been gay? True or false the point feels like a homophobic tidbit thrown in to appeal to a likely redneck audience.

Richard Jewell (2019) will not appear on Eastwood’s “greatest hits” of top films or even top 10 lists. Mystic River (2003) and Million Dollar Baby (2004) would get my votes for “best of”. The film is only a slightly above average biography of a falsely accused man eventually gaining justice. The spin is a politically conservative one of a main character portrayed as a hero meeting unfortunate circumstances.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Kathy Bates

A Prophet-2009

A Prophet-2009

Director-Jacques Audiard

Starring-Tahar Rahim

Scott’s Review #1,034

Reviewed June 18, 2020

Grade: A-

A Prophet (2009), known as Un prophète in the French language, is a prison drama/crime thriller made exceptionally well and told from a character perspective rather than a plot angle. Skirting any traditional genre prison characteristics, the film instead crafts a character study with the conflicting emotions of its main character taking center stage. The result is a layered, complex experience led by a brilliant acting turn by actor Tahar Rahim.

Malik (Rahim) is a nineteen-year-old French youth of Algerian descent imprisoned for six years for attacking police officers. Friendless and unable to read, he is vulnerable and coaxed into murdering a witness involved in a crucial trial. He becomes embroiled in tensions between the Corsicans and Muslims who populate much of the prison. Malik cannot forget his participation in a murder, tortures himself, and has frequent nightmares of the incident. He slowly rises the ranks of power within the prison community becoming involved in dangerous events and pivoting from meek to feared.

Largely avoided are overused prison elements common in many films of similar ilk. In other films, humor or standard dramatic situations occur that make a watered-down experience. A Prophet breathes fresh life into the prison film, albeit grisly and violent life. The film is not for everyone and is extremely dark, even brutal at times. During murder scenes, blood and guts are spilled at an alarming rate, and there ceases to exist many characters to sympathize with. Malik is the main character but is an opportunist, readily doing what he must to gain power and control. Can we blame him? No.

Malik is a complex and nuanced character who is a joy to watch and dissect. He starts his prison tenure as a naive and timid boy, illiterate and easily manipulated. Over time, he grows into a seasoned gangster becoming involved in intricate plots and messy situations. Actor Tahar Rahim successfully makes the character both likable and detestable, fleshing him out so the audience will love and hate him. This is the mark of a wonderful actor who can give complicated dynamics to the character.

Prison life is portrayed exceptionally well by director Jacques Audiard, who relays an authentic representation. It was good enough to make me never want to be imprisoned anyway. He wisely hired former convicts as both extras and advisors to flesh out the experience. Life in prison, Audiard style, is not a rosy picture, but one filled with pain, fright, and violence. The Arab population, woefully underrepresented in cinema, is given a voice.

Another subject matter, homosexuality, a popular addition in prison films is not explored. Mostly played either for laughs or providing a conveniently situational plot device, A Prophet does not need the inclusion, too much else is going on. Although a titillating prospect for many, the subject may have added a sexual or romantic angle taking away from the main point of the film, which is one man’s journey within the prison system.

Told from one man’s viewpoint, A Prophet (2009) is a triumphant French film that deservedly received accolades for its courage and realistic feel. Starring a young actor with great potential and a brave director unafraid to develop logical storytelling and avoid typical traits, one wonders what their next project will be. Violent gangs, corrupt guards, and impressionable prisoners would be a good way to continue.

Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Foreign Film

A Prairie Home Companion-2006

A Prairie Home Companion-2006

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #1,033

Reviewed June 16, 2020

Grade: B

The final film by legendary and influential director Robert Altman is not his greatest work. If I were to compare A Prairie Home Companion (2006) to another of Altman’s pictures it would be Nashville (1975) both having grassroots entertainment similarities. The latter combines satire amid a political rally in a southern city while the former celebrates behind the scenes events at a long-running radio show in Minneapolis.

Difficult to criticize anything a genius does, my expectation was much more than was given. The film plods along with little excitement or juiciness ever happening so the experience is to enjoy the standard Altman fixtures like a huge cast, overlapping dialogue, and witty chatter. A melancholy effort since no new material will ever be released by the cinema great, but a chance to celebrate his achievements all the same.

Set in present times, events take place in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a chilly city in the United States mid-west. A long-running live radio variety show, A Prairie Home Companion, prepares for its final broadcast. The radio station’s new parent company has scheduled the show’s home, the storied Fitzgerald Theater, for demolition and dispatched “the Axeman” (Tommy Lee Jones) to judge whether to save the show. Prospects are grim as radio shows are deemed a thing of the past and irrelevant.

The many radio stars revel and reminisce in memories as they prepare for cancellation. Led by the singing Johnson Girls, Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and sister Rhonda (Lily Tomlin), and daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan) who are most prominent, other characters include cowboy duo Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly); pregnant PA Molly (Maya Rudolph) and the show’s creator and host, Garrison Keillor. A spirit known as “Dangerous Woman” (Virginia Madsen) also joins the group.

Star-power is not the issue here and pleasing is to witness a bevy of A-list Hollywood stars duke it out for screen-time. Anyone possessing knowledge of Altman knows that he was an actor’s director, meaning he let his actors truly shine and interpret what the motivations of the characters were. Garrison Keillor, who wrote the piece, follows Altman’s lead in this area letting the cast try and bring to life what is on the written page. Unfortunately, they fail.

While meandering greatly, A Prairie Home Companion has an earthy and humanistic theater troupe quality. The stars of the radio show are like family and cling to each other for moral support during uncertainty. This feels nice to the viewer as a common compassion is endearing, many of the individuals have spent decades together. Their stories and experiences resonate warmly, and one can’t help but being sucked into their lives.

The problem with this is that the stories go on and on and quickly seem pointless. There is little doubt whether the show will close. While the people are enamoring nothing much really happens in the film and it becomes a bore. The character interactions lack any energy and do not carry the film in any direction. They merely are what they are.

I can appreciate a slow build if there eventually is a pay-off. A Prairie Home Companion (2006) never achieves full-throttle or hits the gas petal so that the film exists but doesn’t shine. With masterpieces such as The Long Goodbye (1973), Nashville (1975), and 3 Women (1977) my expectations were soaring so that may be a part of my let down. Prairie Home is not included in my go-to catalog of Altman greats and would teeter at the bottom of a master ranking of his films.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Director-Robert Altman

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child-1989

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child-1989

Director-Stephen Hopkins

Starring-Robert Englund, Lisa Wilcox

Scott’s Review #1,032

Reviewed June 12, 2020

Grade: C+

When one compares A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) to the first A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), made merely five years prior, the latter is shockingly bad, but rated on its own merits it is okay with both creative and silly moments. The franchise feels exhausted at this point, a long rest recommended, as too many cheesy and doltish moments make this installment more of a comic failure with rarely any scary or sinister moments. A watered down and forgettable entry in a series once blooming with potential. Sadly, it would only be two years before another Nightmare was released.

With a mother theme complete, nearly all the parents and children involved in Freddy Krueger’s original story-line dead and buried, a dream sequence double-shot contained within parts 3 and 4, the logical next idea is to utilize a child story. This is not a bad idea given that Freddy was accused of child molestation, but the intention to produce a spawn of Freddy is less than marvelous. The Child’s Play franchise (1988-2019) took this cue with Seed of Chucky in 2004.

Once again, a year has passed since the events of the previous entry as Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Danny Hassel) cheerily date and enjoy their lives together as they graduate from high school. They are accompanied by friends Greta, Yvonne, and Mark. When Alice has a strange dream about a nun, a mental hospital, and an attack by patients, Dan stresses that she controls her own dreams. As the dreams, persist she begins to have nightmares of Freddy and a strange baby. When Alice and Dan learn they are pregnant, things become violent when Dan and the others are systematically killed off in their dreams while Alice is deemed “crazy”.

A pleasantry to mention is that at least the film offers a slight measure of consistency and continuity as we are reintroduced to Alice and Dan, familiar characters from Part 4. The film wisely keeps the same actors to avoid the jarring disruption that existed in Part 4 when a startling recast was made of its main character from Part 3. Johnson and Jordan are not the greatest actors nor are the supporting cast, but great acting ability is a nicety not a necessity in slasher films.

The visuals are also entertaining, which have habitually been good throughout each of the chapters. Some animated sequences emerge particularly within the dream sequences. The kills and attacks are also well crafted as when a comic book artist is terrorized by Freddy and when one victim, Greta, eats herself alive. There is more humor to the kills than in other installments. Greta’s death is almost revenge against her controlling mother, who is weight conscious. When Greta chokes to death (in real life) she drops dead in front of her mother and their dinner guests. The scene is macabre black humor.

Otherwise, the film is very familiar territory. The baby topic culminates in a wacky sequence that does not work well and is implausible even for a horror film. In dreams, Freddy is feeding his victims to the baby (strangely, named Jacob- wouldn’t Freddy Jr. have been cleverer?) as nourishment to make him be like Freddy. In the real world, Dan’s (now dead) parents demand the baby from Alice when it is born. This is a silly television afternoon special moment. The story concludes with Alice going to sleep to fight Freddy and save her son, which she naturally does.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, 1989 was a paltry year in cinema and specifically in the slasher genre. Quite successful during the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s, it became over-saturated and riddled with carbon copies. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) is a forgettable film offering little to distinguish itself from other chapters. In its defense, how could it, being the fifth release in six years? A feeble attempt by the studio to capitalize financially on a name brand that has run out of steam.

Harriet-2019

Harriet-2019

Director-Kasi Lemmons

Starring-Cynthia Erivo

Scott’s Review #1,031

Reviewed June 10, 2020

Grade: B

The story of real-life American freedom fighter, Harriet Tubman, a woman who risked her life multiple times to rescue slaves from the United States of America South, pre-civil war, is a story of monumental importance to get right. An escaped slave herself, Harriet was more than an Abolitionist, she was a political activist and hero to all whose lives she touched. She was a figure that all women and men should aspire to emulate with her message of freedom and civility.

The cinematic telling of Harriet’s story, simply titled Harriet (2019), is a mild success, mostly deserving of praise for being told at all.  At well over one-hundred and fifty years post-civil war, racism still runs rampant across the United States, so the release of the film is important. A gutsy performance by Cynthia Erivo, a British singer turned actor, is the high point but unfortunately, the rest of the offering is lackluster, frighteningly modern in look and feel, with clear heroes and clear villains and nobody with muddied motivations to be found anywhere.

We first meet young Harriet (Erivo), then named “Minty” Ross, in 1840’s Maryland, then a slave state. She is to be married to her intended, John Tubman (Zackary Momoh), already a free man. Minty’s father, also free, asks her owner to release her as his grandfather had promised before his demise. Refusing, his son, Gideon (Joe Alwyn) decides to sell Minty as punishment. Savvy, Minty flees for the northern states and settles in Philadelphia, a newly free woman with her life ahead of her. She risks capture and death to return to Maryland, in disguise, to rescue her family from the horrors of slavery.

Her plight was so important and so heroic that I really wanted to love this film. To be fair, it is okay, but does not do justice to the real-life Harriet, or succeed as a cinematic offering. The weakest point is the modern look that the film and the actors possess, and I think this was done intentionally. Every single actor, black and white, looks like a present day’s actor dressed in mid-nineteenth century garb and it does not work. My hunch is that film makers wanted this to add relevancy to the current racial problems and I am all for that, but the film suffers as a result.

I am all for feminism in cinema, but Harriet can be accurately accused of stomping that point into the ground. During some of the numerous action sequences when Harriet becomes a flawless sharpshooter, she nearly rivals a Marvel superhero instead of a simple woman championing a cause. And why is Harriet psychic? This is a silly addition that feels plot driven. Director Kasi Lemmons, known for films like Eve’s Bayou (1997) and Black Nativity (2013) knows her way around a picture, but Harriet will not be known as her finest achievement.

There are some positives to mention. Erivo, not known for her acting as much as her singing ability, rises to the occasion. Viola Davis nearly ended up being cast, who would have been brilliant, but Erivo nonetheless impresses. She is pretty, yet plain which humanizes Harriet and makes her relatable to many. Erivo provides both toughness and sympathy so that the audience will champion her cause without it feeling forced. Early in the year, thought to be a lock for the Best Actress Oscar, the film lost ground critically, and Erivo limped to an Oscar nod, and she was lucky to get that. She lost.

The cinematography is credible and another positive to the film. The green, lush landscapes are very southern and peaceful, roaring rapids, bridges, and spacious forests making for atmospheric niceties serving as backdrops for many sequences. Casting Janelle Monae as the gorgeous (and free) Marie Buchanan is fine and adds a Color Purple (1985) comparison-think Celie/Shug Avery. Ironically, the acting among the black actors is superior to the mostly over-the-top or cartoon-like white actors.

Best described as a formulaic Hollywood film with a good message, Harriet (2019) could be a launching pad for Erivos, a new name in Hollywood film. She tackles a difficult role and is the best thing about the production. The sleekness and modernism make the resulting experience less than the grittiness that a film like Harriet needs. Much better biographies of legendary figures exist, a shame since Harriet Tubman is one of the most prominent to have their stories told on the big screen.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Cynthia Erivos, Best Original Song-“Stand Up”

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master-1988

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master-1988

Director-Renny Harlin

Starring-Robert Englund, Tuesday Knight, Lisa Wilcox

Scott’s Review #1,030

Reviewed June 8, 2020

Grade: B-

By 1988, a tepid year in cinema, and with the slasher genre nearly being dead on arrival, the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) had the cards stacked against it. The franchise feels tired and out of gas by this point so more comedy and humorous lines were added along with a return to a similar concept offered in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), the dream sequences. The film is so-so with not much making it stand-out as compared to the superior first three offerings. Thankfully, Robert Englund is the mainstay and main attraction.

A year after the events of the previous film, Kristen (Tuesday Knight) and her friends have been released from the stifling Westin Hills sanitarium, putting the horrific events behind them. Their attempts to resume normal teenage activities like attending class and partying are thwarted by Freddy Krueger (Englund) who begins to infiltrate Kristen’s dreams. Per usual, a fresh batch of teenagers is along for the ride as they struggle to stay awake by watching Music Television (MTV) and revisiting the lavish junkyard featured in the previous installment.

The redundancy of another franchise film using the tired “one year later” to begin events anew is feeling like a cliché. Main character Kristen being played by a different actress does not help the film only making it lack any consistency, the fact that actress Patricia Arquette had little interest in returning for a round two in the role is not the films fault, but a brand-new character instead of a recast might not have been a bad idea. Recasting prominent roles may work in daytime soap operas but not in the movies.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, while quite similar to its predecessor, Dream Warriors, so much so that they could easily be watched in tandem, has some positive qualities. I love the MTV angle, the network music channel overtaking nearly every United States teenager’s living room or bedroom throughout the 1980’s. If the film makers wanted to get teenagers who might not necessarily watch horror films, this was a perfect marketing tool. The target audience is perfectly aligned, and the film feels fresh and relevant for its time of release.

The drawback to the above point is that making a film that is timely means that decades later its risk is being referred to as “of its time”, and sadly that is what has happened with Dream Master. Nobody will scramble to watch this installment when other better chapters are out there. There may hardly be a reason to watch this one against unless a Nightmare marathon is on the docket. The junkyard set and the creepy church set are very good, so the film does well from a visual perspective.

Englund is Freddy and his familiarity cannot be dismissed, but the actor seems to be phoning in his performance by this point in the franchise. Finally receiving top billing, as he should, he shares his familiar witty remarks and playfully taunts his victims like a cat would before pouncing on a mouse. The actor adds even more humor to his one-liners, but this sacrifices the horrific moments of which there are not many. A successful horror/comedy fusion is a delicate balance and there is not enough meat on the bone.

Entertaining at best, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) is not well remembered, nor should it be. A dated affair, with emotionless teenage actors needing acting lessons and surely never to be heard from again, round out the cast led by Robert Englund. The film is a letdown because it is too much like Dream Warrior and suffers from too much predictability.

Suspicion-1941

Suspicion-1941

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Carey Grant, Joan Fontaine

Scott’s Review #1,029

Reviewed June 3, 2020

Grade: B+

An early American effort by the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock (1941), follows the Oscar winning Rebecca (1940) with a similar themed film. A dazzling beauty (Joan Fontaine) is manipulated by her charming husband (Carey Grant) but is he gaslighting her and plotting her death or is it all in her mind? The puzzle unfolds with a sizzling final thirty minutes that eclipses the remainder of the film, which drags and plods along slowly.

Wealthy but insecure Lina McLaidlaw (Fontaine) meets handsome and irresponsible playboy Johnnie Aysgarth (Grant) on a train in England. He charms her into eloping despite the strong disapproval of her father, General McLaidlaw (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) who thinks Johnnie is after the family money. After a lavish honeymoon and return to an extravagant new home, Lina discovers that Johnnie has no job and no income, habitually lives on borrowed money, and was intending to try to sponge off her father. She talks him into getting a job, which he ends up embezzling from.

Lina begins to think that not only is Johnnie after her money but intends to kill her. She becomes aware of his financial schemes and motivations, feeling conflicted over her love for him and her own survival. Events kick into high gear after a friend’s death, an insurance policy, and discussions with an author friend, Isobel Sedbusk (Auriol Lee), a writer of mystery novels, about untraceable poisons. A bizarre dinner conversation surrounding ways to get away with murder cause Lina to start unraveling.

Many suspensions of disbelief must be contained in frustrating measure throughout most of the film and a bothersome level of female mistreatment is to be endured. Gnawing at me from the very first scene is the insecurity of Lina. She is gorgeous, rich, and intelligent so why does she feel, and is perceived even by her parents, as a lonely spinster certain to become an old maid. Despite Hitchcock’s love of glasses on female characters, brandishing Lina with gawky bifocals hardly makes her an ugly duckling. Johnnie’s nicknaming her “monkeyface” is jarring and insulting.

The determination to not make Hollywood royalty Carey Grant too bad of a guy does not work. It feels like a weak effort to suddenly go in a different story direction to thwart the perception of a character as not a villain but someone to feel sympathetic towards. Unclear is if this was Hitchcock’s decision or the mighty studio’s (my best guess would be the latter since Hitchcock was not afraid to take risks). The audience hardly has a chance to let their emotions marinate as the big reveal quickly culminates in the end credits rolling and the film concluding.

A significant positive to Spellbound are the hidden tidbits brewing beneath the main saga of the Hollywood glamour boy and girl (Grant and Fontaine). A clever LGBTQ+ revelation among two supporting characters can be unearthed, decades before the terminology was even invented. Hitchcock loved his gay characters, who could not be openly gay at the time, though the director did his best to offer the now obvious idiosyncrasies. Sophisticated Isobel seems to live alone in her quaint and lovely cottage, but during a dinner party, a blonde woman wearing a suit and tie, clearly butch, joins the conversation. As Isobel asks her to pour more wine, we realize she is hardly a servant but Isobel’s lesbian lover!

The stunning yet highly subtle revelation is prominent to eagle-eyed viewers cagey enough to catch on. Besides these lovely ladies, an odd-looking male dinner guest wearing glasses and discussing murder novels is an interesting character though we see little of him. The same can be said for Lina’s sophisticated mother, Mrs. Martha McLaidlaw (Dame May Whitty), and Lina and Johnnie’s maid, Ethel (Heather Angel). Both, playing small roles, add subtle delights to the film.

Suspicion (1941) is an early Hitchcock film that flies under the radar, rarely mentioned among his best works. The film is a tough sell for its tedious pace, the inexplicable insecurity of the lead character, and an unfulfilling story conclusion. The suspense and activity in the final act (mostly the stunning edge of the cliff car drive) promotes the film to an above average rating, but grander and greater works were soon to follow in the decades ahead. The most fun is noticing the delicious peculiarities of the bevy of interesting supporting characters.

Oscar Nominations: Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Actress-Joan Fontaine (won), Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-1987

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-1987

Director-Chuck Russell

Starring-Patricia Arquette, Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund

Scott’s Review #1,028

Reviewed May 29, 2020

Grade: B+

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is a credible effort for taking the, at this point, tired slasher genre in a new direction, using style and special effects to its advantage. The film is not a work of art and carefully does not stray too far from the norm to risk losing the target audience, but the experiment works, providing the film with a fresh feel. Thankfully, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) is in tow providing wit and humor and rich character history rarely seen in horror.

One year following the events of the previous chapter, Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette) awakens following a nightmare of being chased by Freddy Krueger, to find him in her bathroom where she is attacked again. Her mother believes that she is suicidal and sends her to Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, where Kristen is placed under the care of Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson). The rest of the events of the film mainly take place in this setting. A new intern therapist, Nancy, (Heather Langenkamp) takes an interest in Kristen’s case.

In two clever plot twists, one a bit too coincidental, Nancy reveals to the remaining patients that they are the “last of the Elm Street kids”, the surviving children of the people who banded together and burned Krueger to death many years ago. The second is more intriguing as a nun named Sister Mary Helena (Nan Martin) provides history of Freddy’s mother, Amanda Krueger, who turn out to be one in the same. This humanizes Freddy a bit and provides layers to his story rather than just another “slice ’em and dice ’em” horror film.

The film has a way of gathering curiosity and delivering the goods with dreams and hypnosis and mental synapses, as the kids realize they have dream powers that culminate in a group adventure. Perfect for the mental hospital setting. The junkyard sequence that provides the climax with so much muscle is splendid adding creative and colorful bits of junk, littering the entire set with rusty tin trinkets and other nooks and crannies to marvel at. A feast for the eyes and a perfect backdrop for evil and killings. The set design works tremendously well in this film.

Familiar character Nancy played once again by Langenkamp (the main girl from the first Nightmare) is a nice touch of recognition that will please fans immensely. A returning favorite in a horror franchise is always a smart move. The casting of esteemed character actress Nan Martin, who can frighten the pants off anyone if given a good part, is a divine decision. The actress even resembles legendary actress Betsy Palmer (familiar to Friday the 13th fans as the dreadful Mrs. Voorhees). The creepy mommy theme so often works well in horror films and this inclusion is no exception.

The theme song to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a pop-metal treat written and performed by the heavy metal band Dokken. This inclusion assuredly brought the teenage girls and the mullet crowd alike to movie theaters across America. The song is catchy and can easily be head-banged to as the end credits roll across the screen. Even more impressive are that the lyrics make sense from a story perspective since dreams are a huge part of the franchise and of this specific installment.

Nearly rivaling the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) in originality and plot, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warrior (1987) does a fantastic job bringing energy to a fading genre, one not to be rejuvenated for another nine years when Scream (1996) debuted. Engaging and brightly lit razzle-dazzle visual sets within dreams are pulse-racing and creative, while a mother story crafts fresh air. This film is the sequel high-point to a series of duds soon to follow.

Torture Garden-1968

Torture Garden-1968

Director-Freddie Francis

Starring-Burgess Meredith, Jack Palance, Peter Cushing

Scott’s Review #1,027

Reviewed May 28, 2020

Grade: B

A horror offering made up of multiple vignettes is a treat as we get numerous stories, especially with some late 1960’s British sophistication peppered in. Torture Garden (1968) contains four stories- Enoch, Terror over Hollywood, Mr. Steinway and The Man Who Collected Poe, each with some intrigue. The structure may be most comparable to The Twilight Zone television series, but in a British way. Terror over Hollywood is my personal favorite.

Burgess Meredith (yes, that Burgess Meredith of the Batman television series) stars as Doctor Diabolo, a sinister con-artist who runs an attraction at a fairground sideshow. Having shown them a handful of tepid haunted house-style gimmicks to whet their appetites, he promises them a frightening experience if they pay extra. Of course, they are immediately taken and when they follow him behind a curtain, one by one they view their fates through a transfixed female deity Atropos (Clytie Jessop). The stories commence through a hallucinogenic method.

Below is a summary and review of each vignette.

In Enoch, Colin Williams (Michael Bryant) a greedy playboy with money troubles, takes advantage of his elderly uncle (Maurice Denham), by causing his death and falling under the spell of a man-eating cat. Colin is determined to find his uncle’s riches, leading him to desperation. The plot is far-fetched but the black cat with glowing green-eyes is memorable as are the be-headings of a homeless man, a nurse, and finally, the playboy himself. When the cat finally puts another person under the spell the conclusion is satisfying.

Terror over Hollywood travels across the pond to the United States and introduces a tale of jealousy, schemes, and intrigue in La La Land. The vignette most resembles Invasion of the Body Snatchers in theme and is quite compelling. Carla Hayes (Beverley Adams) is a beautiful, aspiring actress intent on clawing her way to the top by any necessary means. After she ruins her roommate’s dress and steals her date, she embarks on a strange journey that leads her to a role in a film, but there is a price to pay. Adams is a stellar star who brings life and energy to the story.

Providing the most bizarre of all the vignette’s Mr. Steinway involves a possessed grand piano by the name of Euterpe who becomes jealous of its owner Leo’s (John Standing) new lover Dorothy (Barbara Ewing) and goes on the attack seeking revenge. The story is Dorothy’s, who is one of the sideshow patrons, so the events are shown from her perspective. The story contains plenty of loopholes, but fascinating is to see the enormous and gorgeous piano come to life as a character and push Dorothy out the window plummeting to her death.

Finally, in The Man Who Collected Poe, a Poe collector (Jack Palance) murders another collector (Peter Cushing) over collectables he refuses to show him, only to find that the keepsake is the real Edgar Allan Poe (Hedger Wallace). Seeing both the esteemed real-life figure and horror legend Cushing makes this chapter enjoyable even though it is the least compelling of the bunch. Having the knowledge that Torture Garden was originally meant to star Cushing and Christopher Lee detracts from the film just a bit. One can only imagine the possibilities.

In the epilogue, which proves to be a clever twist, the mysterious fifth patron (Michael Ripper) scares the others into fleeing for their lives before revealing that he is a conspirator of Doctor Diabolo’s. The group is proven to be merely gullible rubes, left with the belief that a murder has occurred and their fates will come true. The film espouses black magic and the occult in a fun way but not a frightening way. This is both a positive and a negative since witchcraft never felt so family friendly.

Torture Garden (1968) is not the best horror anthology ever created, nor is it the worst. The plots are uneven but entertaining and never dull. The creative additions of a killer piano, a killer cat, and famed storyteller Edgar Allen Poe are worth the price of admission as is the centerpiece villain played by the great actor Burgess Meredith, who helps keep the plot moving along.

Doctor Sleep-2019

Doctor Sleep-2019

Director-Mike Flanagan

Starring-Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson

Scott’s Review #1,026

Reviewed May 22, 2020

Grade: B

Based on the 2013 novel of the same name written by Stephen King, a sequel to his own 1977 novel The Shining, Doctor Sleep (2019) is also a direct sequel to the film adaptation of The Shining (1980). Events are set several decades after the events of the original and combines elements of the 1977 novel as well. A fun-fact is that King hated the film version of The Shining but approved of the script for Doctor Sleep.

The first and last part of the film are superior to the rest, succeeding mostly when elements of The Shining are incorporated. The rest meanders and teeters too much into supernatural and computer- generated imagery territory, taking away from the haunting ghost story elements that made the original The Shining such a frightening treasure.

Ewan McGregor plays Danny Torrance, the little kid scarred from the trauma he suffered when his father Jack went mad at the looming Overlook hotel decades earlier. Danny, now a grown man and a suffering alcoholic, lives a life that is out of control, suppressing his “shining” gifts that allow him to possess psychic abilities. Hitting rock bottom, Dan moves to a tiny town in New Hampshire and befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who sponsors him in AA. Dan is regularly visited by the spirit of Dick Hallorann, the deceased chef from the hotel who teaches Dan how to contain his demons.

Meanwhile, the True Knot, a cult of psychic vampires led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), extend their lifespans by consuming “steam”, a psychic essence released as they torture and kill those who have the shining. They mostly feed on young children and pursue Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl whose shining is even more powerful than Dan’s. She communicates telepathically with him and form a pact to destroy Rose and her cronies.

Let’s take the good with the bad. The film gets off to a very good start with the recreation of scenes from The Shining, when Danny rides his big wheel throughout the winding 1970’s style hallways of The Overlook and gazes at the forbidden Room 237. The synth musical score that made The Shining atmospheric and unforgettable are also included as the bass infused heartbeat is showcased amid overhead camera angles, a clear ode to The Shining.

The finale of Doctor Sleep comes full circle as Dan and Abra travel from New Hampshire to snowy Colorado and revisit the Overlook, now tattered and ill-forgotten from decades of abandonment. The showdown between Dan, Abra, and Rose treats fans to clips of Jack Nicholson and Shelly DuVall. Visits from familiar characters and sets like the ghostly bartender, the conjoined twins, the wrinkled old naked woman, the gushing elevator blood, and the hedge maze make their returns providing a lovely feeling of nostalgia.

Unfortunately, betwixt the first thirty minutes and final thirty minutes sits another ninety minutes of screen time that doesn’t always work. For starters, a running time of two hours and thirty-two minutes feels too long for a horror film and the filler lying in between is that much more obvious. The action meanders especially given the anticipated final battle which is inevitable.

Taking nothing away from either Ferguson or Curran, who are fine in their respective roles of Rose and Abra, neither are they the most interesting aspects of Doctor Sleep either. They are new characters in the novel and therefore the film but are secondary to Dan and his intricate relationships with Jack, Wendy, and Dick. The only story parts that were interesting to me were the connections and thoughts that Dan had to experiences forty years earlier.

The battle scenes between Rose, Abra, and other characters do nothing for the story and take the film too far in the direction of the supernatural and slick technological aspects that The Shining didn’t need. Since Doctor Sleep was made based on successful recent King adaptations of It Chapter Two (2019) and Pet Sematary (2019) perhaps this is the reason for the modern add-ons.

If Doctor Sleep (2019) could be sliced and diced to eliminate the guts and keep the bookends of the beginning and finale the result would have paid proper homage to The Shining (1980), instead we get only halfway there. The film has some nice elements and stays true to its history but contains a few unnecessary tidbits to make it not great. And how can a film ever compare to the greatness of The Shining (1980)?

Prom Night-1980

Prom Night-1980

Director-Paul Lynch

Starring-Jamie Lee Curtis, Leslie Nielsen

Scott’s Review #1,025

Reviewed May 21, 2020

Grade: B

Released in the summer of 1980, Prom Night feels much more like a late 1970’s styled film than the plethora of carbon copy products that were churned out in the early part of its decade. To be clear, the film is a conventional slasher whodunit and does not reinvent the wheel, but small tidbits of stylized cinematography are nestled within its formulaic confines during what could be considered throwaway scenes. Prom Night might be forgotten if not for the casting of “Scream Queen” Jamie Lee Curtis who leads the charge, carrying the story.

The film is heavily influenced by two very popular motion pictures that preceded it. The most obvious comparison, also in the horror genre, is Carrie (1976), that has a gruesome finale set in the usually cheerful late spring high school gymnasium event, known as prom night. Surprisingly, Prom Night also capitalizes on the enormous success of Saturday Night Fever, a 1977 vehicle that made John Travolta and discotheque’s household names, to say nothing of making teenage girls swoon. Prom Night even copies a cheesy disco dance sequence.

The story begins, like many horror films do, with an incident that took place many years ago, paving the way for the current events. Youngsters, Wendy, Jude, Kelly, and Nick play hide-and-seek in an abandoned convent. When little Robin Hammond tries to join them, the group starts teasing her, repeating “Kill! Kill! Kill!”, over and over again, frightening her and causing her to accidentally fall to her death through a second story window. The children make a pact not to tell anyone what happened and keep the incident a secret. The shadow of an unseen person who witnessed Robin’s death emerges.

Flash-forward to present day when the children are now in high school and eagerly await a night of dancing, drinking and perhaps getting lucky, as they flirt and plan their partners for the night. Robin’s family, led by the stoic Mr. Hammond (Leslie Nielsen) memorializes her on the anniversary of her death as sister Kim (Curtis) and brother Alex (Michael Tough) ready themselves for the prom that night.

Meanwhile, Kelly, Nick, Jude, and Wendy begin to receive menacing phone calls. Could Mr. Hammond, Kim, or Alex be behind the calls, perhaps seeking to avenge Robin’s death, or is this too obvious an approach? As nightfall draws near the teenagers and their friends begin to fall victim to throat slitting’s, a decapitation, and a chase with an ax by crazed killer wearing a ski mask and black clothing. An ode to the Halloween franchise in the final act is delicious, but may or may not have been intentional.

The best part of Prom Night is the whodunit factor and most of the fun is trying to figure out who is offing the kids. We know the motivation but not the who. Red herrings are thrown directly to the audience like bones to a hungry dog. The creepy, alcoholic janitor, Sykes, leers at the teens and even witnesses one of the murders (spoiler alert- he is not the killer!) but his claims are dismissed as drunken rants. An escaped sex offender thought to be Robin’s killer, and an enemy of Kim’s are also thrown in to distract the viewer.

There is little character development (surprise, surprise) as standard stock character’s are on display. There is the jokester, the bitchy rich girl, the virginal girl, and the obnoxious boy, so diversity is not the ingredient of this film. A formula is clearly followed and we know the final reveal will be the be all, end all of a film like this. Despite being formulaic Prom Night is still enjoyable, never feeling mediocre. There is enough going on to please horror fans seeking thrills.

Not a bad effort, Prom Night (1980) captures the viewers attention immediately and never is dull. The one-hour and twenty-nine minutes of running time is a smart move as quick and easy can be described of the film. The surprise reveal genuinely does surprise when the masked killer is revealed. This is not Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) or Black Christmas (1974), the cream of the crop in slasher films, but is worth the watch.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge-1985

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge-1985

Director-Jack Sholder

Starring-Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund

Scott’s Review #1,024

Reviewed May 18, 2020

Grade: B

While producing a surprising and tantalizing sexual subtext to a standard story and including a male protagonist instead of the generic female, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) sometimes feels overwrought with stock characters and not enough scary moments to satisfy bloodthirsty appetites, but the effort and aching for something a bit different is apparent, if viewers are sharp enough to take a curious peek.

The glossy 1980’s cinematic look is cringe-worthy and very “of the time” which usurps the creative tidbits nestled beneath the surface, as deserving of their merits as they are. Nonetheless, the film is not at all bad, almost feeling fresh by today’s standards, and the familiar villain is worth the price of admission. Once again Freddy baits and taunts his victims, who never stand a chance, with his trademark sneer and razor-sharp nails.

Five years following the events of the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, a new family arrives on the cursed block, happily anticipating a new life filled with baked cookies and warm fires. Parents Ken and Cheryl Walsh (film legend Hope Lange) raise two kids, Angela and Jesse (Mark Patton). The latter is haunted in his dreams by a killer driving a school bus. Jesse is joined by his friend and romantic interest, Lisa (Kim Meyers), school chum Grady (Robert Rusler), and Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell), who may or may not be gay.

An obvious comparison to the similar themed Friday the 13th franchise, a hot ticket during the 1980’s, is the return to a familiar setting. Elm Street is to A Nightmare on Elm Street what Camp Crystal Lake is to Friday the 13th. The locale is a character itself and knowing that bad stuff will occur there is pleasing to the viewer. Elm Street is supposed to be a quiet and safe place for families to snuggle in their beds with pets, dreaming the nights away, not worrying about an evil force turning their pleasant dreams into nightmares come to life.

A clever homoerotic tidbit, lost on most viewers, emerges nonetheless, especially in hindsight. Let’s remind ourselves that 1985 was not a hotbed of LGBTQ cinematic activity, especially as the horrific A.I.D.S epidemic was front-page news. Gay-themed films were not the norm, not even in the independent film circuit yet, so any mention of a gay character was a win for the community. A riveting scene has Jesse dreaming of indulging in a drink at a gay bar and is caught by Schneider, who sends him to the showers. The sexual overtones, obvious now, were not then.

Sadly, this is as far as the film goes with this subject. The remainder of the story is mostly standard fare, featuring a lively teenage pool party, aqua-net infused hairstyles, up-tempo pop music, and familiar written characters, most of whom turned up with different faces in the droves of horror films that peppered suburban movie theaters in those days. Not daring to make Jesse a gay character, though someone humorously made the character’s name androgynous, Jesse and Lisa share a tender kiss in her cabana.

Most sequels pale in comparison to their originals. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) is an adequate follow-up that dares to incorporate as much diversity and inclusiveness as could be mustered in a mainstream film during the mid-1980’s. Let’s not kid ourselves that the studios did not have profit on the mind over credibility and creativity, but the stakes are not exactly played safe which is to its credit. There were far worse sequels in this franchise yet to come!

A Nightmare on Elm Street-2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street-2010

Director-Samuel Bayer

Starring-Jackie Earle Haley

Scott’s Review #1,023

Reviewed May 14, 2020

Grade: C-

Rather a pointless remake, but unsurprising given the speedy attempts at re-doing almost every successful horror franchise in recent memory, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) offers nothing that the original did not provide better. Any film that is considered a dud with the word “nightmare” in the title is ripe for the picking as far as jokes and mockery go. The film is not too terrible but is rather mediocre and average to the taste. There is no reason to watch this offering over the 1984 original, besides perhaps a moment of curiosity.

A quick recap or re-introduction. Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a serial killer who crosses the worlds of dreams and reality to slice and dice his victims with his razor-sharp blade-fingered glove, is on the loose in small town America. As Nancy (Rooney Mara) and her pals fight for their lives, they also uncover clues to a shocking secret from their past. Freddy was a known child molester decades earlier and was tracked down and burned alive by angry parents seeking revenge after he escaped prison. He has vowed to destroy the children of those parents who all conveniently still live in the same town.

Capitalizing on the box-office success of a commercially successful yet critically sub-par 2009 offering of Friday the 13th, the light bulb went off and A Nightmare on Elm Street was green lit and born. The intention was to make Freddy and the film harsher and scarier than the 1984 original. This is a severe misstep as what made the original so good was the character of Freddy. What 1980’s teenager doesn’t fondly recall oozing with delight at Freddy’s one-liners and quips as he playfully toys with his pray before slitting their throats? New-Freddy is sinister, violent, and banal. Boring!

Earle Haley, a character actor known for 1977’s Breaking Away and finding a well-deserved career resurgence with the brilliant Little Children (2006) is cast as the brutal villain, sans any of the humor. The actor, small in stature, is cast well on paper, and doesn’t purposely ruin the role. It’s just that he is not Robert Englund and therefore never has a chance. While admittedly Earle Haley is menacing, he lacks the charisma and charm to do very much with the role except try to recreate something that is not his to begin with.

The rest of the teens in the cast are decent but hardly spectacular. The “final girl” is Nancy Thompson (Rooney Mara) changed to Nancy Holbrook in this version in another eye-rolling mistake since no reason is explained for the name change. It’s like changing Freddy Krueger’s name to Freddy Kelly. Regardless, Mara champions on in a role she is way too good for. The actress, about to reach stardom for gems like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Carol (2015) clearly needed the paycheck and a start. Fair enough.

From a visual standpoint, the film has some jump scares and frights that are stock fare for slick, mainstream horror films, almost now becoming clichés. The sets are decent with some of the houses and, a church, worthy of mention. Darkness is the main ingredient of this film- it is horror after all, and the filming has a very dark texture even during bright scenes. Some nice kills flesh out the rest of the experience.

If there is money to be made in Hollywood, it will be made. The true motivator of remaking A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) was profit over art. This is a reality and not so much a criticism, after all it’s called the entertainment biz for a reason. The changes made to the script do it no favors and if a remake had to be done, it was better left alone and not fooled with. Jackie Earle Haley does his best, but he is not and never will be the real Freddy Krueger. Robert Englund has that dubious honor.

Funny Girl-1968

Funny Girl-1968

Director-William Wyler

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif

Scott’s Review #1,022

Reviewed May 11, 2020

Grade: B+

Barbra Streisand won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her outstanding portrayal of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968). She reprises a role that she made famous on the Broadway stage, bringing her to the big-screen. The role is vitally important and presents a great message, teaching viewers that an unconventional woman with great talents can succeed in show biz, leaving prim and proper starlets salivating with jealousy. Features the classic tunes “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” as well as the title track.

Fanny (Streisand) is an unhappy Jewish New Yorker, living in semi-poverty and dreaming of the big time. Her mother (Kay Medford) and others in the community try to persuade Fanny to live a normal life far from the hot and judgmental lights of the stage, but she will have none of it. Finding success on her own terms in Ziegfeld Follies throughout World War I, she also finds love and passion with the suave Nick Arnstein (Sharif) following her debut performance. The story is loosely based on the life and career of the real Fanny and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler, Nick.

Taking nothing away from Sharif, who is more than adequate, the film belongs to Streisand. Despite being a novice, producers wanted nobody other than Streisand in the role since she had hit a home run in the stage version. A brief consideration to have Shirley MacLaine star in hindsight seems laughable and unimaginable. Sharif’s suave and dangerous swarthy characterization balances perfectly with Streisand’s naivety and innocence. The Jewish female and the Muslim male also must have raised an eyebrow or two at the time.

Streisand is a breath of fresh air in a role that could be said to mimic real life and reflects film in 1968 and beyond. Glamour girls were the height of fashion throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s where looks sometimes usurped talent. By the lifting of the Hollywood Code, grittier and dirtier roles were to be found for women. Streisand, as Fanny, proves that a self-proclaimed ugly duckling can rise to the top of the cream. Refusing to get a nose job or otherwise alter her appearance or name, she mirrors Fanny in many ways, inspiring both women and men to be yourself to achieve truth.

Director William Wyler, no stranger to Hollywood success with pictures such as Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) knows how to pace and balance a film nicely and how to present a cheery and splendid offering in a nice way, careful not to make the film too lightweight either. Comic scenes such as when Fanny upstages everyone and prances around stage as a pregnant newlywed becoming the talk of the town are the best ones. The film succeeds when it is fun.

Sharif does his best with a small role, surprising given the importance of the character, but the dramatic moments are not the best scenes. They are okay and certainly not overacted by the stars, but do not work as well as when Streisand belts out “People” on a lonely sidewalk. The issue is that Streisand is Funny Girl and even prominent actors like Sharif never had a chance. The one exception is Medford who goes toe to toe with Streisand in every scene with gusto and humor.

Funny Girl (1968) may suffer from a few overly melodramatic moments that slow it down, especially concerning the main romance, but the prominent message is one of staying true to one’s own colors. Refusing to be influenced by elders or even her beau, Fanny is to be heralded as an inspiration to all viewers. With delightful musical numbers and zesty wardrobe pieces, the film has a cheery and fun veneer, but more lies beneath the surface.  Whether the intention is a sing-along experience or a deeper meaning, the film has something for everyone.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress-Barbra Streisand (won), Best Supporting Actress-Kay Medford, Best Score of a Musical Picture-Original or Adaptation, Best Song Original for the Picture-“Funny Girl”, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

Law of Desire-1987

Law of Desire-1987

Director-Pedro Almodovar

Starring-Antonio Banderas, Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura

Scott’s Review #1,021

Reviewed May 8, 2020

Grade: B+

Law of Desire or La ley del deseo (as translated in original Spanish) is a 1987 film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Quite groundbreaking for its time and penned by a respected director, the film was rich in offering what was rarely presented in films during the 1980’s- a complex love triangle between two men and a trans woman. The fact that the trans woman is the sister of one of the men is a bonus to the buttery soap opera premise.

In 2020, when LGBTQ+ films are more plentiful in cinema (at least at the indie level), Law of Desire suffers slightly from a dated feel and parts drag along. It’s tough to heavily criticize a piece so brazen as this one was when it was released to art-house theaters and musty metropolitan theaters. As groundbreaking as the film must be given credit for, the story now feels sillier than it should, and more outlandish than it probably intended to be over thirty years ago.

The fabulous setting of Madrid, Spain is the backdrop for the luscious tale of love, obsession, jealousy, and revenge, think the prime-time television series Dynasty on steroids. Cocky Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a successful gay film director with his pick from a bevy of young, good-looking gay males, is madly in love with Juan (Miguel Molina), though he has a roving eye. Suave Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who comes from a conservative family, is new to the gay scene and falls madly in love with Pablo when Juan goes to find himself. Tina (Carmen Maura), who likes men and women, has just been dumped and is vulnerable.

Besides the obvious daring gender bending this story could be a simple one told many times across many genres. Almodóvar spins things into a frenzy as the plot unfolds adding manipulations, sub-plots, and bizarre characters into the mix.  For example, Ada is Tina’s surrogate daughter and is a precocious ten-year-old girl in love with Pablo. Ada refuses to go back with her mother (Bibi Andersen) when she comes back to whisk her off to Milan to meet a man she just met.

The gay subtext is what is center stage here. Back in the 1980’s, the term LGBTQ+ was on nobody’s radar and having any representation at all in cinema was still territory barely scratching the surface. This point kept returning to me over the course of the film and imagining how fresh the experience would have been to any gay man or gay woman fortunate enough to have seen it. I am not sure any of the characters would serve as great role models, but the representation is nice. Almodóvar adds in a good deal of naked flesh for an added treat.

Several comic scenes arise with gusto. Antonio, who lives at home with a religious zealot of a mother, convinces Pablo to sign his letters from “Laura P”, a character from his latest play, to trick Antonio’s nosy mama. Tina, not much of an actress, is cast in Pablo’s one-woman theatrical productions. She thinks her performance is great, Pablo thinks she stinks. The comical moments are the ones that work best, giving the plentiful offbeat characters a chance to let loose and shine.

Towards the conclusion, Law of Desire takes a tragic and Shakespearean turn. A drunken Juan is thrown off a cliff to his death prompting an investigation with Antonio and Pablo both prime suspects. Finally, a kidnapping and police stand-off ensue with a murder/suicide providing the film’s final moments.

I am not a fan of the title that Almodóvar chooses. Preferable would be a title that is a bit more titillating. Even Lust of Desire or Object of My Desire would have been better choices. Law of Desire screams of a tepid episode of television’s Law & Order. For a director with such an outlandish approach and such bizarre characters the title is bland, banal and tough to remember.

For those seeking a kinky and provocative late-night affair will find Law of Desire (1987) a good old time. It lacks much of a clear message instead providing a sexy romp and dreary ending. Running the gamut of adding musical score pieces as unique as 1970’s The Conformist, a film also shrouded in same sex desire, to cheesy 1980’s synth laden beats, adds some confusion. Nonetheless, diversity and inclusiveness are good recipes to chow down on and celebrate.

Lifeboat-1944

Lifeboat-1944

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Tallulah Bankhead, Walter Slezak

Scott’s Review #1,020

Reviewed May 6, 2020

Grade: A-

Alfred Hitchcock, well-known for big, bouncy, suspenseful productions, creates a stripped-down, intimate story of adventures while adrift on a survival boat, leaving plenty of tension and peril. Lifeboat (1944), now teetering on extinction from memory save for fans of the director, deserves appreciation and respect for the brilliant direction and wonderful cinematography alone. The film was met with controversy and some derision for sympathetic depictions of a German U-boat captain (Walter Slezak) amid the horrors of World War II.

Events begin in the middle of calm Atlantic Oceanic waters after a dastardly battle results in a German U-boat and a British/American ship sinking each other, leaving fewer than a dozen civilians and service members to survive in one lifeboat. The snooty and glamorous columnist Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), clad in the finest fur coat around, is irritated by a run in her stocking, a travesty in her mind. She is slowly joined by other survivors including a young British woman with a dead baby, a steward, a U.S. Army nurse (Mary Anderson), a wealthy entrepreneur, and other people from most walks of life.

Lifeboat plays out like a more cerebral version of a disaster film. Think- a smart man’s version of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), which is said with love since it’s one of my favorite films. But with Lifeboat, there is a darkness and a sadness missing from 1970’s disaster films that were more lightweight. The black-and-white camerawork helps tremendously as does the mist, the rain, and even the strong beating sun. The weather elements play an important role and are characters themselves.

Speaking of characters, the individuals are plentiful and diverse, ranging from British, American, Black, German, wealthy and working-class, to eventually dead and alive with a gruesome leg amputation taking place mid-stream. Each is well-written, exhibiting fear, bravery, and suspicion of the other’s motivations, especially the German captain who communicates in native tongue with Connie, causing conjecture among the other survivors.

Events would hardly be complete without a good melodramatic romance and such is the treat to see two formulate. Connie and handsome John (John Hodiak) share a love/hate relationship, clearly from opposite backgrounds, while the more stable Alice and Stanley (Hume Cronyn) even decide to marry! Genteel Alice reveals a marriage and an affair to Stanley uncovering layers and a complexity to the character.

My favorite character is Connie, and Bankhead is a pure delight in the bitchy, no-nonsense role. She enshrouds the camera from the first scene. Reminiscent of Bette Davis, the actress has a similar composure, stance, and trademark cigarette, but slowly reveals her insecurities and desperation. What fun she is to watch!

A tender and poignant scene occurs at the end of the film and is lovely to witness especially given the tumultuous time of the mid 1940’s. A drifting young German soldier attempts to board and shoot at the survivors but is apprehended. Disputes occur, but instead of shooting or casting the lad over board to drown, he is saved and presumably provided food and water. He inquires why they don’t kill him? The message is powerful and anti-war.

The direction methods are brilliant, looking as realistic as anything could in 1940’s cinema where CGI was decades away. Hitchcock had me fooled as I bought lock, stock, and barrel that the lifeboat was in the middle of rough and murky waters instead of a Hollywood studio tub. The creative method of getting so many characters into one shot wonderfully and effectively provides a claustrophobic feel as the lack of food and drinking water causes hysteria and emotion. The one-set approach is marvelous and perfect for the film’s specific story line.

After decades of underexposure and playing second or third fiddle to other Hitchcock masterpieces, Lifeboat (1944) is finally getting a bit of notice and acclaim. Here’s to hoping the trend will continue as the film contains enough frights and perils to keep anyone guessing which characters will sink and which will swim. Perhaps not the best watch on a cruise ship or other watery surfaces, the escapade will delight most fans of classic black-and-white thrill cinema.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director- Alfred Hitchcock, Best Original Story, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White

A Nightmare on Elm Street-1984

A Nightmare on Elm Street-1984

Director-Wes Craven

Starring-Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon

Scott’s Review #1,019

Reviewed May 4, 2020

Grade: A-

Pioneer horror director Wes Craven, famous for reinvigorating the slasher genre with humor, wit, and satirically ponderous situations, created the iconic A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which introduced the legendary character of Freddie Kruger (Robert Englund) to audiences. Followed by eight sequels or re-introductions, the debut is a clever affair and a breath of fresh air in the too often formulaic world of slashers. And who could deny the satisfaction of seeing future Hollywood royalty, Johnny Depp, succumb to the villainous Kruger.

A group of unsuspecting teenagers are tortured both consciously and unconsciously as they dream the nights away, by a hideously disfigured man clad in a striped shirt and a gloved hand with razors. He taunts and teases the teens unmercifully as they reside, party, and have sex in small-town America, mainly spending their time in high school or on the cursed Elm Street. The main girl to experience Freddie’s devious wrath is Nancy Thompson (Heather Langankamp), who uses caffeine and more drastic measures to stay awake and alive!

To review A Nightmare on Elm Street without mentioning the Friday the 13th or Halloween franchises would be foolhardy since, combined, they make up the “Big three” of the entertaining slasher genre, each living on in infamy. To provide a quick chronology, A Nightmare on Elm Street ran from (1984-1994) adding a crossover with Friday the 13th in 2003, and an unnecessary remake in 2010. Friday the 13th hit cinemas in 1980, never looking back until the uninspired remake in 2009. Finally, Halloween debuted in 1978 and is still churning out relevant chapters.

Whereas Friday the 13th and Halloween chose to stick with a more realistic formula- a crazed killer wielding a butcher knife or an ax, the brief foray into outer space with Jason X (2002) notwithstanding, A Nightmare on Elm Street is the more cerebral of the three, mixing dreams and reality so the viewer is left perplexed and filled with thoughtful questions and is scared. As each victim is gleefully toyed with, invaded and killed in their dreams, and thus killed, by the burnt killer, more complexities exist.

Released right smack in the middle of the 1980’s- the decade of decadence, where a snug suburban life meant safety and sweet dreams, the target audience is the teenage crowd. In the height of the Reagan years where everyone and their neighbor had a vacation house, boat or BMW, this film scared the daylights out of most viewers. Sleep did not come easy for those who took Freddie’s taunts to heart.

While frightening, A Nightmare on Elm Street does not take itself as seriously as Friday the 13th or Halloween does. Infusing humor and snickering fun is a great recipe to differentiate itself from its brethren taking on straight-ahead horror. The film can blur the boundaries between the imaginary and the real, toying with audience perceptions at every turn and making them think.

Imaginative, this is not always the film’s key to success. Craven needs to be careful that his story does not teeter off into the absurd or the outlandish, which it did in later installments. Credit must be given to Englund, who takes crazy Freddie off to orbit with dizzying rapidity, going too over-the-top only once or twice. And who can ever forget the frightening child’s rhyming song featured in the film.

Story always eclipses effects, and Craven is wise to craft a backstory for Kruger to enjoy almost making him sympathetic, but then harshly bringing reality back and making the killer a child murderer. Still, the parents who took their own brand of vengeance and burned Freddie alive are not saints but sinners. This allows Kruger just enough empathy to keep audiences engaged. He’s a fun villain!

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is a timeless classic that introduced the world to one of the horror genres best villains. Unlike Jason and Michael Myers, who are faceless, Freddie Kruger was played by one actor, Robert Englund, who gave him energy, zest, and charm. He will forever live on in the hearts of slasher fans everywhere.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco-2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco-2019

Director-Joe Talbot

Starring-Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors

Scott’s Review #1,018

Reviewed May 1, 2020

Grade: A

The brilliance of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) is multi-fold. The immediate call-out is that the work is the creation of up-and-coming director, Joe Talbot, an artist with a great eye for both the visual and humanistic aspects of cinema. Whomever influenced this young man deserves props for he has a great future ahead of him. Being this is his film debut and he also co-wrote it, the future is bright indeed. The film is loosely based on the life of his childhood best friend, Jimmie Fails, who also stars.

A24 is arguably the new “it” film studio for independent entertainment offerings and this is to be celebrated. Indie films provide creative artists with the means and the time to develop their product and tell stories that are fraught with meaning and in many cases dare to go where other films have not ventured to at risk of turning a mainstream audience off. This is to be celebrated and championed and has resulted in many great and unique films. Hereditary (2018), Midsommar (2019), and The Lighthouse (2019) immediately spring to mind.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco gets off to an interesting start as two young black men, Jimmie (Fails) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) wait for the bus as men clad in protective gear appear to clean polluted waters. The implication is clear that residents are not protected while the men are. Protesters chant while images of the changes San Francisco has experienced over the years are shown. The two then skateboard to a Victorian house in the city’s Fillmore District that Jimmie grew up in and says was built by his grandfather in 1946. Their skateboard trip is cerebral and surrealistic and ten glorious cinematic moments.

Evident is that Talbot is channeling either an autobiographic story or one of a friend- it proves to be the latter. Unclear is if Mont is supposed to be Talbot, but my guess would be in the affirmative. Jimmie and Mont are inseparable, residing both at Mont’s grandfather’s house (played by a startlingly elderly Danny Glover) and the house that Jimmie’s grandfather built. The friends trudge along their daily life by enduring insults hurled at them by a neighborhood gang and fixing up the Victorian house whose owners neglect it and are subsequently are evicted.

Jimmie and Mont are fantastically nuanced, rich characters, each for different reasons. Jimmie is pained that his city has forgotten his grandfather and his legacy, cast aside for progress and wealth. His father (Rob Morgan) is angry, his mother, a recovering drug addict is barely in his life, as they run into each other by chance on the city bus. Jimmie’s Aunt (Tichina Arnold) resides outside the city and serves as his confidante.

Mont is a creative, yearning to write a play based on the local gang, but struggles to create the words or authentically express his voice. He works in a fish shop and frequently acts out his thoughts of others down by the water. Considered odd, he is a good guy and loyal to his grandfather. Since a female love interest is never mentioned (another high point of the film) neither Jimmie’s nor Mont’s sexuality is ever discussed, nor is a potential relationship between the two ever mentioned. The ambiguity works amazingly well and conjures up comparisons to the groundbreaking Moonlight (2016).

When a sudden death erupts the proceedings, Mont finally finds his voice and composes an improvised stage play which he stars in as a dedication for the fallen victim. He elicits responses from the people in attendance (including all principal cast members) as a shocking secret erupts resulting in disarray. This takes the already layered film into a new direction as all Jimmie thought to be true is suddenly shattered.

In a word, the film feels fresh, both visually and from a story perspective. Fails and Majors are top young talent with bright futures who add a patient climb with their characters amid a film that paces slowly but steadily, letting the events marinate to a frenzy in a thought-provoking way.

I eagerly await the next project by the talented Talbot. In a film industry hungry for new ideas, the creator of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) offers a journey into the minds of two black men written not as stereotypes, but as interesting and intelligent individuals sadly not looking forward but looking backwards. The film provides characters who are not standard but are so much more than that.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best First Feature, Best Supporting Male-Jonathan Majors

My Darling Clementine-1946

My Darling Clementine-1946

Director-John Ford

Starring-Henry Fonda, Victor Mature

Scott’s Review #1,017

Reviewed April 30, 2020

Grade: A-

Esteemed director John Ford, mostly known for crafting the very best in the western genre for four decades creates a timeless story that is character driven and unpredictable. My Darling Clementine (1946) provides superb atmosphere amid a depressing ambiance led by Henry Fonda, the appealing leading man of the day. The iconic American western folk ballad, “Oh My Darling, Clementine” makes an appearance during the opening and closing credits to book end the classic.

In 1882, events get underway when a group of men herd cattle through the Old West in route to California. The Earp brothers (Wyatt, Morgan, Virgil, and James) encounter the sinister Clanton family, who salivate over the profit the animals could supply them. After being rebuffed for a sale, the Clanton’s kill young James and steal the cattle. Wyatt (Fonda) vows revenge and settles in at Tombstone, Arizona where he befriends the dangerous Doc Holliday (Victor Mature), Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs), the ravishing Chihuahua (Linda Darnell) and Mac, the local bartender.

The film is based on real-life western figures and events. Wyatt Earp was a lawman and gambler while Doc Holliday was a gambler, gunslinger, and dentist. Both men were participants in the famous and bloody gunfight at the OK Corral, a thirty second shootout between lawmen and outlaws, regarded as the most well-known battle in the American Wild West. This makes the film both historical and fun for viewers anticipating some truth. The rest is created story.

One can delve into other avenues of enjoyment during My Darling Clementine other than the action emitting from the screen. The rich surrounding elements are as glorious, and plentiful. Much of the events take place outdoors, a treat, and the spacious and wide-open exteriors are a marvel to lay an eye on. The exquisite clouds and sprawling lands are evident as is the black and white cinematography. This adds a measure of mystique that color film would have ruined.

Unlike other westerns there is surprisingly little racism to be found. Commonly, American Indians are classified as the enemy and subsequently mistreated. Other than one quick scene where an unnamed Indian is booted out of town, nary a racist moment can be found. Quite a few Mexican characters appear, most prominently Chihuahua, who is the apple in every man’s eye. To see Mexican culture represented and celebrated with dancing and country colors is a nice addition.

The pacing of the film is superior too, with little lag or drag time. The relatively short running-time of one hour and thirty-six minutes is a benefit as events get down and dirty quickly. The combustible energy of the saloon scenes, simply a must in this genre, is great. So much transpires within each scene as the patrons eat, drink, dance, sing, and fight. Interesting characters like the bartender and Granville Thorndyke, a stage actor who performs Shakespeare, make the film very fleshed out from a character perspective.

A minor demerit that must be aimed at the film is the awkward decision to write a perplexing and uneven ending that sours the wrap-up. When the big shootout concludes Wyatt decides to depart Tombstone, bidding adieu to a confused Clementine at the school house, wistfully promising that if he ever returns, he will look her up. This is weak and unsatisfying considering she moved to the West from the East to be with Doc, who dies. Why would she decide to stay and why would he decide to leave considering the pair was drawn to each other as the film escalates? I was expecting a “happily ever after” moment.

My Darling Clementine (1946) is an elite treasure among a genre that is commonly one-note and riddled with stereotypes and bad treatment of those that are not white, masculine men. Sure, the whiskey flows heavily as the guns are cocked and loaded at a moment’s notice. But, with arguably two main heroes (Wyatt and Doc), well-crafted supporting characters, and a stoic final fight, this film has it all, providing depth and freshness to an often-stale cinematic genre.

A History of Violence-2005

A History of Violence-2005

Director-David Cronenberg

Starring-Viggo Mortensen, Mario Bello, Ed Harris

Scott’s Review #1,016

Reviewed April 28, 2020

Grade: B+

David Cronenberg has directed films such as Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), and Crash (1996), stories safely classified as “off the beaten path”. With A History of Violence (2005) he creates a film that on the surface appears conventional and even wholesome at the onset, a family drama or thriller, that turns sinister and bloody as it lumbers along. The Christian-like small Indiana town is the perfect backdrop to quietly inflict mayhem and terror on its characters. Stars Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris give tremendous portrayals.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet mid-western life and owns a quaint, little diner nestled in the center of town. He is a popular man and quite neighborly, befriending the many patrons who visit his lovely eatery. At his side are his adoring wife Edie (Maria Bello), and children, Jack and Sarah. If they owned a golden retriever and resided in a house with a white picket fence, they would define the all-American family.

Late one night, two men attempt to rob the restaurant and when they attack a waitress, Tom kills both robbers with surprising ease and skill barely blinking at his violent tendencies. He is professed a hero by the townspeople and the incident makes him a local celebrity. Tom is then visited by the frightening scarred gangster Carl Fogarty (Harris), who insists that Tom is a notorious gangster from Philadelphia named Joey Cusack. Tom is perplexed and vehemently denies the claims, but Fogarty begins to stalk the Stall family. Because of the pressure, Tom’s family life hits crisis mode.

As the film ticks along the plot becomes thicker and thicker as the puzzle pieces are rife with mystery. Is Fogarty merely a liar, holding a vendetta against the person who killed his men? Does Tom suffer from amnesia, having forgotten his past life due to an accident? Has Tom fled the criminal life seeking refuge and a new life in middle-America, safely leaving his troubles behind? Does the truth lie somewhere in the middle of these possibilities?

Bello is cast in the role of Edie, Tom’s loyal wife. Bello is a stellar actor and does a wonderful job in the complicated role. Far too often, especially in thrillers, the wife role is as lacking in challenge as it is in glamour. The ever-supportive wife must be a drag to play but certainly pays the bills. Edie is different, and as soon as the viewer has her figured out, she performs an action out of the blue that will surprise for this type of character. This has a lot to do with Bello’s pizzazz and acting chops.

I adore the setting of the film. A far cry from the bustling City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, when the action eventually flows to the city, the rural setting of Indiana becomes even more important. The quiet mornings, the imagined smell of fresh-brewed coffee, the crackling of sizzling bacon on the grill at Tom’s diner, and finally, crickets chirping in the distance, all provoke the potent atmosphere and surroundings that really work in this film.

A History of Violence (2005) is a superior film that contains excellent writing, the best aspect of the rich experience. A top-notch screenplay written by Josh Olson leaves the viewer not only with mounting tension, but the mysterious unknown as to what will happen next and what the truth is. Mortensen, commonplace in recent Cronenberg films, has found his niche playing complex yet humanistic characters, which must be a challenge for the actor and a splendid reward for the audience.

Spellbound-1945

Spellbound-1945

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck

Scott’s Review #1,015

Reviewed April 24, 2020

Grade: A-

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s early American films, after his voyage from home base London to United States soil proved profitable and critically acclaimed, Spellbound (1945) followed the box office and awards success of Rebecca (1940). Probably the most spoofed of all the Hitchcock works in the 1977 Mel Brooks parody High Anxiety, Spellbound provides a psychological storyboard that uses enough vehicles like amnesia, hypnosis, and danger to impress any daytime soap opera writer. Not in the director’s top arsenal or remembered well, but a stellar effort.

Youthful Doctor Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives one day at the sprawling Green Manors Mental Asylum as the new director. After immediately falling for each other, the beautiful Doctor Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) discovers that Edwardes is not who he claims, but instead is a paranoid amnesiac impostor, more reminiscent of a patient. This literally gives new meaning to the term “the inmates are running the asylum.”

Constance becomes obsessed with answering the following questions: What happened to the real Dr. Edwardes? If Edwardes has been kidnapped or murdered who is responsible? Who is the gorgeous man that she has just fallen head over heels for? The intelligent psychoanalyst must practice what she preaches by becoming a sleuth and figuring out what is going on. The action takes place in both bustling New York City and snowy Rochester, New York.

I love the progressive nature of the story. To have a leading female character with a lofty professional status is admirable given the year of 1945 when female roles were just beginning to evolve. While most roles that Hollywood heavyweight Bette Davis portrayed in the 1930’s and 1940’s was vital and strong, this was the exception and not the norm. Bergman, quite beautiful, does not need to play sex kitten to make her character sexy. She does well with that by wearing glasses and a lab coat, using the intelligence of her character to her advantage.

In 1945 Alfred Hitchcock was still considered a “new” director to most and was only beginning to make his mark on audiences unfamiliar with his work. His cunning and masterful use of lighting and shadows to produce suspense is on display during much of Spellbound. The faces of Constance and Anthony glow with a combination of warmth and suspicion, and both are wonderful at eliciting emotion through subdued facial expressions. While Peck is slightly wooden, it does add a dimension to his uncertain character.

Atmosphere is everything with Hitchcock. Treats, like shots of the old Penn Station and Grand Central Station, monumental parts of everyday New York City life, are magnificent. They provide a glimpse of what bustling commuter life was like in the 1940’s before most of us were born. Undoubtedly, many extras and non-actors were used that enrich the scenes and offer what regular people looked like in those days.

As Constance and Anthony team up to determine what secrets lie beneath his subconscious, they board a train for the seclusion of upstate New York, where more secrets are revealed. A heavy dose of psychoanalysis and hypnotism allay the best scene of the film. Anthony sinks into a dreamlike world where he sees strange objects fraught with symbolism: a man with no face, scissors, playing cards, eyes, and curtains. What do they all mean? Fans will have fun piecing together the clues to solve the mystery.

The works of Salvador Dali, a famous surrealist artist known for bizarre and striking images, are on display during the dream sequence. Though limited, they do envelope the scene with fright and mystique and are a perfect addition to the odd sequence. Shot in black and white, the final scene adds a blood red image as a character turns a revolver on themselves and commits suicide. When Anthony drinks a glass of milk, the camera is inside the bottom of the glass, creating a hallucinogenic effect.

While Peck does his best with a peculiar character, Anthony is not as interesting as Constance, Doctor Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), or Doctor Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Personally, I would have loved more scenes or back-story for Brulov and have gotten to know him better. Anthony has some light annoyances as when he inexplicably passes out whenever events become too much for him.

Spellbound (1945) is the perfect accompaniment for a snowy winter night since the film has a warm and cozy look with atmosphere and the soothing musical score. Perfect is to watch in tandem with High Anxiety (1977) for a double-punch of suspense and appreciation for the film with the humor the satire furnishes. While not the best of the best of Hitchcock films, it stands proudly on its own merits.

Oscar Nominations: Best Motion Picture, Best Director-Alfred Hitchcock, Best Supporting Actor-Michael Chekhov, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (won), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Special Effects

Death in Venice-1971

Death in Venice-1971

Director-Luchino Visconti

Starring-Dirk Bogarde, Romolo Valli

Scott’s Review #1,014

Reviewed April 22, 2020

Grade: A

Death in Venice (1971) is a haunting and tragic story of a depressed middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old Polish boy while on holiday in Venice. The story on the surface is dark and dour and not for the judgmental or the closed-minded. With a deeper dive and a haunting musical score the film provides beauty and impressionism. The film is based on the original novella Death in Venice, written by German author Thomas Mann, published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig.

Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) is a lonely composer who travels to Venice for health reasons and a recipe for recovery. His maladies are unclear at the start but is assumed to be sent to the picturesque city as a form of therapy. While enjoying a tranquil holiday, he spots and becomes obsessed with the stunning, youthful beauty of Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is staying with his family at the luxurious Grand Hôtel des Bains, just as Gustav is. Their encounters run rampant as they are viewed by the audience from afar, but never speak to each other.

This is the brilliance of Death in Venice. A more standard approach may have been to make the story more forceful. If Gustav dared to have approached, harassed, or even molested Tadzio, the direction of the film would have vastly changed, and he would have been deemed a pervert. Suddenly the film would have been about a pedophile preying on a youngster, rather than incorporating a beautiful subtext of longing and unfulfilled passion. The masterful classical numbers that open and close the film help to achieve this mindset.

The controversial subject matter, still taboo by today’s progressive standards, is not gratuitous, but is quite obsessive. Worthy of mention is that Gustav’s plight begins harmless enough as he appreciates a beautiful image, almost like gazing at a sculpture- think Michelangelo’s David-since we are in Italy. But when he begins to follow Tadzio and see him more and more his desperation increases as his health deteriorates. For a while it is unclear whether the boy even realizes he is an object of affection. It is Gustav’s feelings and emotions that are most explored.

As a side-story, the city of Venice is gripped by a cholera epidemic, and the city authorities do not inform the holiday-makers of the problem for fear that they will flee the vital city. In 2020, with the vicious Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world with savage ferocity, this classic film takes on a whole new importance. When the Venice officials downplay the epidemic as tourists increasingly fall ill, a modern realism is conjured to the audience.

Death in Venice, as the title should make clear, is not a love story, otherwise it would be called Love in Venice. Gustav’s lust for Tadzio is unrequited. Neither is Gustav’s own sexuality clear, though he is assumed to be bisexual. In one of the film’s saddest scenes, also the finale, Gustav lounges on the sandy beach in ill health dressed in an improper white suit. He sees Tadzio playfully frolicking with an older boy and afterwards walks away and turns back to look at Gustavo. As Tadzio outreaches his arms towards the water, Gustav does the same as if he is enveloping the boy. The moment is breathtaking.

Many symbolic and meaningful scenes occur like when Gustav visits a barber who insists he will return his customer to his youth. The results are ghastly. Dyeing his grey hair black and whitening his face and reddening his lips to try and make him look younger leaves a macabre and somber image of a man feebly attempting to turn back the hands of time, something all of us can relate to. His heavily made up face are meant to hide his insecurities.

Incorporating an ingenious mix of beauty, tragedy, obsession, and loneliness, Italian director, Luchino Visconti crafts a brilliant and painful dissection of human emotion. The subject matter of Death in Venice (1971) will not appeal to all viewers, but those brave enough to traverse the sometimes-rocky waters will find an underlying treasure and a meaningful cinematic experience.

Oscar Nominations: Best Costume Design

Welcome to my blog! My name is Scott Segrell. I reside in Stamford, CT. This is a diverse site featuring hundreds of film reviews I have created ranging in genre from horror to documentaries to Oscar winners to weird movies to mainstream fare and everything in between. Please take a look at my Top 100 Films section! This list is updated annually- during the month of September. Simply scroll down to the Top 100 Films category on the left or right hand side of the page. Enjoy and keep the comments coming!