Category Archives: Horror Films

I Know What You Did Last Summer-1997

I Know What You Did Last Summer-1997

Director-Jim Gillespie

Starring-Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe, Sarah Michelle Gellar

Scott’s Review #1,182

Reviewed September 29, 2021

Grade: B+

Capitalizing on the wild success of the mid-1990s horror resurgence led by Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) was a popular low-budget popcorn hit at the time. The year 1997 was like 1979 or 1980 when the slasher craze (part Deux) was still fresh and intriguing.

The film is fun with superior direction and a dark ambiance that works quite well for the genre.

A slew of other imitators would follow this release including the tepid I Still Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998 but the first one is formulaic entertainment done well. It wisely cast youthful stars of the day chomping at the bit to be the killer’s next victim.

One hot July 4th night in the small coastal town of Southport, North Carolina, a group of four teenagers run over a fisherman and dumping his body in the water, vow never to speak of the incident again. Some members of the group feel little remorse while others are racked with guilt.

The four principals are Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Barry (Ryan Phillippe), Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.).

Predictably, one year later Julie receives a frightening letter and the group reconvenes. They fret and worry that they have been seen or worse yet that they will be exposed. The letter clearly states ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. Someone begins to follow them, especially Julie, clad in fisherman’s gear and wielding a meat hook.

In a way, he is a combination of other horror villains like Jason, Freddy, and Michael Meyers, but we know neither his identity nor his motivation.

Does he want money or blood?

One of the group incorrectly pursues who he thinks is the killer and is unceremoniously run down and terrorized. The bloodletting only continues as other townspeople become involved in the events some amid a local Independence Day parade.

There are some obvious inclusions to the story to make sure audiences are aware they are watching a slasher flick and a teen-targeted genre flick. This is no wonder since the screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, was the best know for teenaged-themed writing for television’s Dawson’s Creek.

I Know What You Did Last Summer borrows from so many 1980’s slasher-flicks like Terror Train (1980), Prom Night (1980), and My Bloody Valentine (1981) that it’s a given that Williamson and director Jim Gillespie spent weekends shacked up with popcorn and sodas while watching these films for reference material.

The killer is masked. This is to make damned sure we know that we are watching a whodunit and that at the finale the killer will be exposed- think the big reveal in every Scooby-Doo episode. Could the killer be one of the teens themselves?

Julie is immediately the clear ‘final girl’ simply because she feels the most guilt and is the most pursued perhaps for that very reason. Other necessities like the asshole jock (Phillippe), the mean girl (Bridgette Wilson), and the red-herring are added on like clockwork. We know that Julie will be the one to survive.

Still, the premise is quite compelling and immediately had me hooked. I also knew that I was being manipulated but I did not care. I couldn’t wait to find out who the killer was.

The final sequence that ensures a sequel is delicious and an obvious ode to Brian De Palma films. A year later in 1998, Julie is in college in Boston. As she enters the shower, she notices the words “I still know” written in the steam on the shower door. Moments later, a dark figure crashes through it as Julie screams!

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) is straight up, by the numbers mainstream horror but the familiarity doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the experience. You know what is right around the bend and you can’t wait to get there.

Deathdream-1972

Deathdream-1972

Director-Bob Clark

Starring-Richard Backus, John Marley, Lynn Carlin

Scott’s Review #1,175

Reviewed September 3, 2021

Grade: B+

Deathdream (also known in some circles as Dead of Night) is a 1972 horror offering directed by Bob Clark and written by Alan Ormsby that plays out like a very good science-fiction meets gruesome horror type of The Twilight Zone episode.

This is not to say it’s amateurish though in certain ways it is and mostly just it’s that the dialogue is spotty. Rather, it has the feel of an episodic adventure more than an actual film. This makes perfect sense since it was inspired by the W. W. Jacobs short story “The Monkey’s Paw”.

The film was shot in a town named Brooksville, Florida which is unusual in itself and provides a genuine southern quality like when the family sits down for a hearty meal.

Usually, horror films stick to Hollywood studio locales or cheaper areas like Canada to film.

Deathdream stars Richard Backus, John Marley, and Lynn Carlin.

The premise immediately intrigues me. A middle-aged married couple, Charles and Christine,  (Marley and Carlin) receives the devastating news that their son Andy (Backus) has died in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. They’re overcome with grief, to say the least. Before the news, Christine seems overly chatty and a bit peculiar while Charles is much older than his wife.

Soon after, Andy, very much alive, hitches a ride with a truck driver whom he then murders. He arrives home and is clearly not the same, seeming to be zombie-like and in a trance, not the same boy who left for Vietnam a year earlier.

As a classic film lover, I was immediately tickled pink by actor John Marley’s appearance onscreen. Associated with Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972) with the latter forever etched in my memory as the film director who is made “an offer he can’t refuse” by way of his gorgeous horse Khartoum, it was a treat to see him in a horror film.

I noticed facets of Deathdream that reminded me of one of my favorite horror films, Black Christmas (1974) not realizing that they were both directed by Bob Clark himself. Deathdream serves as the perfect opening act to that most influential horror film.

An organ/synthesizer effect immediately caught my ear with more than a tad of fright. I instantly recognized it as the spooky noise emitting from the Black Christmas musical score. And both use a rocking chair prop with fantastic results. The creaking sound brought chills up and down my spine.

Can you believe this guy also made Porky’s (1981) and A Christmas Story (1983)? Talk about versatility.

It’s clear the film was made on a shoestring budget but proves in a mighty form that, similar to British Hammer horror pictures, creativity can ooze out of a small budget. Terrific is what the crew does with the special effects. Instead of cheesy or campy they are thrilling.

The story could be construed as silly or ridiculous. Andy is some kind of vampire or zombie who needs the blood of others to reinvigorate his decaying body which on paper makes little sense. The only reason he comes back from the dead (we see him killed in combat on-screen) is because he promised his mother he’d return home.

Beyond that, under the surface is a message about the war that I found powerful and that usurped the horror genre where the film lies. It’s not just another horror film- it has deeper subtext.

Though Clark is never overt about it, Andy obviously suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, something not yet realized in the early 1970s and certainly not talked about. Clark’s message is clear.  Andy is a young man whose life has been ruined unnecessarily.

Despite being a film aficionado I had not heard of Deathdream (1972) until quite recently. It’s an overlooked gem like so many others in the horror genre, but this one can be appreciated by horror fans, fans of message films, and those looking for a good scare.

It deserves some love.

A Quiet Place Part II-2021

A Quiet Place Part II-2021

Director-John Krasinski

Starring-Emily Blunt, John Krasinski

Scott’s Review #1,170

Reviewed August 12, 2021

Grade: B+

A Quiet Place Part II (2021) makes excellent use of sound, almost a character in itself, by featuring a deaf character and aliens who are blind and use only their acute sense of hearing to stalk and annihilate their prey.

The big sounds and the deafening silences keep the film fresh, capitalizing on its novel approach.

The film is both a sequel and a prequel that presumably allows director, writer, and actor John Krasinski the chance to reprise his ill-fated character offering a neat timeline to the events of the first film, A Quiet Place (2018).

Since that film was an enormous success a sequel was green-lit by the studio almost immediately. It offered Krasinski a great deal of freedom which he runs within this offering.

I can’t say the plot exactly comes together as tidy as I hoped and there is no explanation for the alien’s actions or motivations- what is it they want and where do they come from? The lack of explanation gnawed at me. After all, they must have been created from somewhere. The lack of motivation of a horror character like Michael Meyers is understandable but aliens?

The film is raised quite a bit above average thanks to a thrilling and fascinating opening sequence. This lengthy scene was astonishing with differing character points of view, meticulous filmmaking, and frights galore. Plus the appearance of Lee (Krasinski) killed in the first film immediately drowns us in intrigue.

I wish the rest of the film had remained as breathtaking but it’s not bad either. As a northeasterner, I was treated to some of the action taking place on a dilapidated metro-north railway train. Any commuter will appreciate this nod.

And who doesn’t enjoy numerous shots of Emily Blunt playing bad-ass with a loaded shotgun? The talented actress and wife of Krasinski add credibility to the horror genre.

I know someone who saw A Quiet Place Part II without seeing A Quiet Place and enjoyed it nonetheless but I think it’s helpful to know the material to appreciate the first scene.

We begin on Day one and the Abbott family-husband, wife, and three children, enjoy a little league game on a summer afternoon. When suddenly a cloud-like object plummets to Earth, all hell breaks loose and the town is in a terrified flee as aliens destroy all in their paths.

This plot point is interesting since viewers will know that two of the family members will not survive very long.

A year later the Abbott family-Evelyn (Blunt), Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and a newborn must leave their farm with a calculated plan to reach safety. They realize through a never-ending song played on the radio that there is a sanctuary on a nearby island.

Clever Regan, who is deaf, can combine a microphone with her cochlear implant to kill the aliens.

Young actress Simmonds is quite a find and along with Jupe emerges as the star of the film. The teenagers spent much time on the run and battling the aliens. Setting events up for another sequel Kransinki and Blunt may want less to do with follow-ups.

Deaf in real life she is the standout and supports a female empowerment slant especially while possessing a disability. She is a unique character because she is unconventional-looking and authentic, lacking the typical characteristics that attempt to get moviegoers into theaters. She is my favorite character.

Geography is an issue here. Presumed to be upstate New York and shot in western New York, possibly the Utica area, the sanctuary is in Long Island Sound off the coast of Stamford, Connecticut. This would require the Abbots to travel hundreds of miles but the film makes it seem that both areas are neighboring. This mistake may not be noticed by most but since I live in the area it’s apparent.

A Quiet Place Part II feels reminiscent of the television series The Walking Dead. The additions of the family traversing the countryside, a sanctuary, and ravage humans all support this comparison.

There are some predictable plot points to endure that prevent it from straying too far from the fray but A Quiet Place Part II (2021) also offers a film about the senses that still feels unique. By part III this may become redundant but John Krasinski proves he can make a compelling sequence with enough suspense to keep his viewers engaged.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space-1988

Killer Klowns from Outer Space-1988

Director-Stephen Chiodo

Starring-Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder

Scott’s Review #1,169

Reviewed August 6, 2021

Grade: B-

A film surely only meant to be viewed late at night and/or in a hallucinated or otherwise drugged state for maximum pleasure, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) is not to be taken seriously.

It does contain great imagination.

It’s kind of a take-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) with a wretched 1980’s look. It’s a fun film but as odd and pointless as they come. There is no explanation offered for the villain’s behavior nor is one really necessary. There is also no political message or motivation.

It’s like someone thought of the weirdest possible gimmick and made a film about it.

For a horror film, the body count is very high but there is little gore. Unsurprisingly, it has found a permanent home in the genre cult classic category, forever to be dusted off when in need of the wacky or absurd.

Teenage lovebirds Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) see a comet crash outside their quiet, small-town one late night. They investigate and discover a pack of murderous aliens who look exactly like circus clowns. When they do the right thing and warn the local authorities, everyone assumes their story is a prank.

Meanwhile, the clowns attempt to harvest and eat as many people as they can. When they kidnap Debbie, Mike decides to set out himself to rescue her and stop the bloody rampage. This leads to an epic battle between Mike and his friends and the clowns.

The Chiodo Brothers, who wrote and directed Killer Klowns from Outer Space, are primarily known for special effects, stop motion, and clay modeling and the film uses these techniques heavily. The wonky and lumbering clowns possess sinister smiles and quirky cotton candy cocoons to keep their prey.

Hardly are they directorial or screenplay masters so the film feels extremely experimental in many regards. The storyline is basic and the villains have only one modus operandi. The character development is nill and the acting poor.

Is anyone surprised?

The key to the enjoyment of Killer Klowns from Outer Space is that it knows it is a B-movie and embraces the classification. Avoiding all seriousness is arguably what makes it a marginal success. One can sit back and laugh at it as one would rib an old friend. It is acceptable to both parties.

The clowns, or Klowns, are the real star of the film. It’s fun to view these odd creatures and admire their costumes. This is the creativity of the film coming out and the Chiodo Brothers are masterful at this. One part scary and one part goofy their lavish costumes are bright and colorful. The creatures themselves are ugly as sin, big and lumbering.

Predictably, the film writes the supporting characters as stereotypical as possible, and maybe that’s the fun in it all. Farmer Gene Green (cool name!) believes Halley’s comet is the strange glowing object falling to earth. He and his dog are quickly harvested. The police officers are curmudgeons and disbelieving of the teenagers. Various friends of Mike and Debbie are cast as one would think for a horror film.

The final climax is the best part of the film when an ice cream truck is used as a weapon against the clowns until a myriad of pies starts falling from the skies. Anyone watching the film while stoned would gleefully laugh.

Recommended for the adventurous cinema lover who wants to delve into the bizarre, late-night campy horror territory. Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) is mesmerizing in its absurdity and harkens back to 1950s science fiction.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow-2020

The Wolf of Snow Hollow-2020

Director-Jim Cummings

Starring-Jim Cummings, Riki Lindhome

Scott’s Review #1,166

Reviewed July 28, 2021

Grade: B

Jim Cummings, who writes, directs, and stars in his self created horror-comedy offering about a killer werewolf, delivers a film named The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) which has sprinklings of both Fargo (1996) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) mixed in with an appropriate amount of comic moments to offset the stark horror.

While the film can be watched and enjoyed any time of year, the snowy drifts and the Christmas and New Year’s seasons are well-positioned for a holiday horror feast. Especially clever is the inclusion of the song Auld Lang Syne during the finale of the film.

The film excels at offering a compelling locale and set trimmings.

To further the point and emphasize the Fargo comparisons, the setting is wintery Utah and many of the characters resemble those found in the Coen brothers film. The kooky police force, the odd characters, and the snowy plains are a nice nod to the film.

A small-town cop, John Marshall (Jim Cummings) struggling with a failed marriage, alcoholism, a rebellious daughter, and an inept team of officers, is assigned with solving a series of brutal murders that are occurring only during a full moon. As he’s consumed by the hunt for the killer, he struggles to deal with his sick father, played by Robert Forster, who is also the acting sheriff.

Are the murders being committed by a werewolf or someone donning a disguise? Part of the fun for the audience is the guesswork. Just the premise alone of a werewolf on the loose in a small town is compelling.

The film is a bit all over the place from a plot perspective. Besides the main plot of the murders and the subsequent whodunit, that should be enough to satisfy a quick one hour and twenty-three-minute running time. The relationship between father and son is touching and is a win. Since Forster died shortly after the film was made this adds even more poignancy.

There are some loose ends however that either doesn’t add up or are too predictable. The frequent shots of an unnamed townsperson suspected of the killings, who lives with a wolf and takes drugs are way too obvious a red herring. Spoiler alert- he’s not the killer. And Marshall’s daughter sneaking out to a car to have sex with a boyfriend is an obvious plot ploy for her to be attacked.

I’m not sure why so many films present police officers as either being incompetent, unintelligent, or corrupt but The Wolf of Snow Hollow is guilty as charged with some clear cliches meant to be humorous.

The film is still enjoyable and never boring. Lots of dark comedic elements lighten things up like when John flies into rages or banters with his father or female police officer and sidekick Officer Julia, played by Riki Lindhome.

The mystery of the killer is compelling and the final sequence is enthralling. I was immediately engrossed with the first scene when a  young pair visit the snowy town and dine in a local eatery preparing to embark on a romantic weekend. The assumption is these two are the main characters but when the girl is murdered things charter in a different direction.

On a quick inclusion note when a townsperson utters an anti- LGBTQ+ slur he is railed at by a character though no gay characters actually appear.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) is an entertaining affair. It borrows from some other films but resurrects the werewolf storyline which is intriguing in itself. Since Cummings took on the bulk of this film himself I’m curious what else he will bring to the cinematic table, in the horror genre or otherwise.

Macabre-1980

Macabre-1980

Director-Lamberto Bava

Starring-Bernice Stegers

Scott’s Review #1,165

Reviewed July 26, 2021

Grade: A-

With a pedigree for horror, director Lamberto Bava has a lot to live up to. He is the son of Mario Bava deemed the “Master of Italian Horror” for creepies like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963) and worked alongside Dario Argento, another famous Italian horror director.

Lamberto certainly learned his craft exceptionally well and he creates a terrific and gruesome horror film called Macabre (1980) which certainly lives up to its name. I won’t spoil the fun by revealing too much but the experience of watching his film will stay with the audience long after it ends.

Nightmares anyone?

Let’s just say that one won’t look at one’s libido and the human head in the same way ever again.

Sadly, Bava wouldn’t remain very long in the feature film industry. After assisting Argento with his films throughout the 1980s Bava would move to the television industry. But what a lasting impression he makes with Macabre.

The horrific tale mixes murder, madness, and perverse (or perverted) passion. A lonely New Orleans wife and mother, Jane Baker, played by Bernice Stegers, carries on a torrid affair without her family’s knowledge. After sneaking around and causing her daughter Lucy’s (Veronica Zinny) suspicions to be aroused, a violent accident leaves her lover, Fred, dead.

Devastated, Jane does a stint in a mental institution. Supposedly cured, she leaves determined to pursue her forbidden desires and ends up moving in with her dead lover’s blind brother, Robert (Stanko Molnar). But what secret or ghastly desires does she hold dear to her heart and what oddity resides in her refrigerator?

You’re probably wondering why a director with Italian roots as strong as Bava’s would choose the cajun and gumbo-infused city of New Orleans- I was too. Why not choose a more gothic locale like Rome? The setting is even more jarring given the British and Italian actors cast in the film.

Rumor has it the events in the film actually happened in New Orleans but I’m not sure I buy that.

Be that as it may, something is unsettling about this weird setting. But somehow it works as measured against the bizarre nature of the story. It’s so out there that for some reason it affects.

The running time is just right at one hour and thirty minutes and with such a low budget any longer might have felt distracting or made the pace plod too much.

Stegers is fabulous in the central role. She is controlled yet neurotic, madly in love with her beau on the brink of instability. She is also a strong, feminist woman as she brazenly carries on with her affair unconcerned of the consequences though death isn’t exactly what she expects. Regardless, Stegers does a fine job and carries the action throughout the duration.

It’s tough to measure at the time whether Bava is going for mid-level camp or complete over-the-top bizarro. He certainly knows the tricks of the trade and avoids the popular slasher effects like gore and blood. This is to his credit.

Instead, he floods Macabre with juicy atmospheric elements and a perfect mood. This mood gets creepier as the plot develops reaching a crescendo at the conclusion when Richard, Lucy, Jane, and even the deceased Fred adjourn for a savory dinner where the events will never be seen coming.

Macabre (1980) is a forgotten masterpiece that I highly recommend for any fan of Italian-style horror and those desiring a ghoulish and titillating journey into the macabre. How appropriate.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan-1989

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan-1989

Director-Rob Hedden

Starring-Jensen Daggett, Scott Reeves

Scott’s Review #1,163

Reviewed July 21, 2021

Grade: D+

After eight installments in only nine years of the iconic horror Friday the 13th series fans by this time know what they are in store for. The title of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten (1989) and its accompanying cover art offers a glimmer of originality and intrigue.

If this were 1989 I would be excited at the prospects of what this film could deliver.

Hell, the city of New York was dour and dirty in the late 1980s, filled with grit, grime, and seediness. What a perfect setup for our crazed killer Jason to mix and mingle with the dregs of society. I conjured up images of Jason chasing frightened teenagers through graffiti-laced subways and x-rated peep show theaters in the Times Square district.

We get a few location shots of Times Square but not much more.

Unfortunately for fans, only the final thirty minutes or so of the film is even set amid the Big Apple and for eagle-eyed viewers, much less than that is even filmed in New York City. Years later, director Rob Hedden would blame Paramount studios for severely limiting the budget allowed for on-location filming.

The result is that Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten feels like a sham.

Okay, the film is a terrible, cheesy, poorly acted, jaggedly paced film, but on a late Saturday night, it provides some fun and comfort alongside the proper mood and spirits.

A few years following the events of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) multiple mass murderer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) is resurrected from the bottom of Crystal Lake after an underwater electrical fire.

After he kills a passing boat’s occupants, he stows away on a cruise ship filled with a high-school graduating class excitedly bound for New York City. Strict Biology teacher Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman) is on board with his niece, Rennie (Jensen Daggett), who has visions of Jason drowning as a child. They temporarily escape his bloody rampage, but, when Rennie and Charles reach Manhattan, Jason is hot in pursuit.

Apparently, the ten million other Manhattanites are uninteresting and Jason must kill Rennie and cohorts.

There is an unnecessary side story of Uncle Charles having pushed Rennie into Camp Crystal Lake in a sink or swim moment where she first saw glimpses of Jason. This has nothing to do with the main story nor is it needed.

The rest of the film is exactly as one might suspect with very few surprises. The character development, limited in slasher films like this, is extremely pitiful and uneven. One female character is a rocker chick who clutches her electric guitar and plays it nonstop, practically during her own death scene.

Other unintentionally laughable characters include a young black man who is an aspiring boxer and attempts to spar with Jason on the rooftop building. This proves to be a big mistake when Jason takes one punch at him and decapitates him. The popular blonde prom queen/mean girl, Tamara (Sharlene Martin) decides to throw Rennie overboard after she catches Tamara doing drugs. Apparently murdering a fellow student is a better option than being caught.

Finally, the deckhand played by Alex Diakund is a carbon copy of the Crazy Ralph character from Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th: Part II (1981) even uttering the famous “You’re all doomed” line.

The stereotypes are rampant. However, unusual in the slasher genre for 1989, diversity is apparent with African-American, Hispanic, and Asian characters. While all are supporting characters and know their purpose is to be bludgeoned, the inclusiveness is at least a slight win.

Other positives are the familiar Camp Crystal Lake setting not being completely scrapped as the title might indicate. There is something nice and familiar with Jason, a lake, darkness, and murder.

Rob Hedden’s idea to take much of the action to an unfamiliar setting like a metropolis is a good one, a city is the opposite of a lake, but the studio screwed the director over royally with their limitations. Still, a wonderful shot of Times Square can easily transplant a viewer watching the film in present times back to 1989 and experience, if only for a minute, what life was like.

That’s worth a small something.

Quarantine-2008

Quarantine-2008

Director-John Erick Dowdle

Starring-Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Jay Hernandez

Scott’s Review #1,154

Reviewed June 18, 2021

Grade: B+

Clearly patterned after 28 Days Later (2002), Cloverfield (2008), and other horror zombie offerings popular during the 2000s, Quarantine (2008) is more of a film of its day than anything fresh or original. The funny thing is it works fairly well as an entertaining popcorn horror flick. It’s not going to be remembered very well but it provides jumps, frights, and thrills.

It’s shot like a reality television show with seemingly handheld cameras following the characters which also gives it a 2000s feel. The irony is that the story involves a reality television series (all the craze in those days).

The dark glowing lighting and Los Angeles apartment building setting provide a good amount of peril.

While suspenseful, that doesn’t mean that Quarantine is necessarily a good film. It’s not and my grade of a B+ feels awfully generous but the bottom line is that every film is not a cinematic gem and some just plain ole entertainment. Quarantine is one of those types of films.

Apparently, Quarantine is a remake of a 2007 Spanish film called REC which is set in Barcelona. The United States replaces Spain and the characters are Americanized for the mainstream masses.

Reporter Angela (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman Scott (Steve Harris) are doing a story on night-shift firefighters for a reality television program.  One night while filming, a late-night distress call takes them to a Los Angeles apartment building, where the police are investigating a report of horrific screams.

Angela, Scott, and firefighters Jake and Fletcher, played by Jay Hernandez and Johnathon Schaech respectively report to the building to find a loony old woman who suddenly attacks with teeth bared. Alarmed, they realize that the building has been sealed by CDC workers. Then they really start to panic.

Of course, laughably, they continue to film despite feeling desperate. Gotta keep those television ratings intact. In this way, it pairs well with The Blair Witch Project (1999) though nowhere near as fresh and inventive as that film. Instead, it feels like a copy of that film and other films with very little originality of their own.

Again, this didn’t bother me so much as I had no expectations of cinematic art when I agreed to see Quarantine. I had entertainment on my mind and that is what I received.

John Erick Dowdle writes and directs this project and creates a frenzied horror film. The action is quite quick and instantaneous amid a lightning-quick one-hour and twenty-nine-minute runtime. Interesting to note is that Quarantine features no actual musical score, using only sound effects. As a fan of background music in cinema, this wasn’t a great decision but I understand the intent.

After all, the Hitchock masterpiece The Birds (1963) featured no music.

Of course, the plot can be picked apart like a salad onion, but that’s not the point. But, for fun, why didn’t the firefighters provide the trapped residents with weapons or objects they could fight with? Why did characters try to ‘save’ characters who had been bitten only to put their own lives at risk? Hasn’t anyone ever seen Dawn of the Dead (1978)?

All events and storylines feel like some sort of setup.

I’ve seen better acting. Jennifer Carpenter, whom I have never heard of, is in a constant state of hysterics. That’s fine but her endless cowering, whimpers and hyperventilating does nothing to evoke a strong female character.

On a hot summer day, in a cold air-conditioned movie theater, is the perfect environment for a type of film like Quarantine (2008). There are worse ways to spend an hour and thirty minutes than munching on popcorn and being on the edge of your seat.

Valentine-2001

Valentine-2001

Director-Jamie Blanks

Starring-Denise Richards, David Boreanaz

Scott’s Review #1,146

Reviewed May 26, 2021

Grade: C

Valentine (2001) is a horror film made in the wrong decade. The film could have been more meaningful or relevant if only it had been made in the early 1980s. Sadly, it feels like a weak retread and an ode to a former time. Its flight took off twenty years ago.

1981 or 1982 was the heyday of the slasher flick. It’s kind of like a band attempting to play 1980’s pop hits passed off as original music- it doesn’t work. Or, a cover band belting out Bon Jovi hits as their own. What’s worse is that it’s set in 2001. It might have been a better film with some feathered hair or parachute pants and a direct tribute to the 1980s.

It’s painfully mediocre.

If I sound harsh that is not my intention. Valentine is not a disastrous film and the pacing is fine at a short one hour and thirty-six minutes. It’s just that it’s dreadfully unoriginal and therefore uninspiring.

It’s like the filmmakers thought, ‘let’s put some hot chicks in a slasher film and off them one by one and make some money”. Valentine didn’t make much money and was universally panned.

Borrowing from several popular flicks like Prom Night (1980), Terror Train (1980), and My Bloody Valentine (1981), director Jamie Banks even steals the familiar holiday theme so necessary for this type of genre.

Even the final twist is unfulfilling because, like in almost all slasher films, a twist is almost mandatory and therefore unsurprising.

Before I forget, the acting is painfully bad. So there’s that bonus.

The action begins at a junior high school Valentines’s Day dance in 1988. An outcast named Jeremy Melton, asks four popular girls to dance and is disdainfully rebuffed by each. They are clearly mean girls. Their overweight friend Dorothy accepts Jeremy’s invitation and they make out underneath the bleachers.

When bullies discover them they are ridiculed. Dorothy lies and claims that Jeremy sexually assaulted her resulting in his being beaten, expelled, and eventually institutionalized after the group testifies against him, lying on the witness stand.

Years later, on Valentine’s Day, Kate (Marley Shelton), Paige (Denise Richards), Dorothy (Jessica Capshaw), Lily (Jessica Cauffiel), and Shelly (Katherine Heigl) begin receiving scary messages from an unknown sender, signed “JM”. The women then are killed off one by one by a psycho in a Cupid mask. They reside in San Francisco.

They suspect the murderer is Jeremy, having returned to exact revenge. Ya think?

There is entertainment in the mean girls being hacked to bits unceremoniously and it is definitely satisfying. I clearly sided with the Cupid killer but was I supposed to? Well, I did anyway. Jeremy is handsome and sympathetic. After all, they ruined his life. Why would we root for the girls to be spared?

And it’s enjoyable. The deaths include a slit throat, a brutal beating with a hot iron, and death by electrocution. A special edition for Valentine’s Day is a box of chocolates filled with maggots!

I won’t ruin the final twist by revealing any specifics but suffice it to say that, yes, Jeremy is indeed the killer. But it’s not quite in the way you’d think.

There is nothing original about Valentine (2001) which is about as formulaic a film as there ever was. Instead of ever watching or thinking about the film again I’ll happily break out my copies of Halloween (1978) or Friday the 13th (1980).

But still, it’s not the terrible film most people think it is.

Vacancy-2007

Vacancy-2007

Director-Nimród Antal

Starring-Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale 

Scott’s Review #1,127

Reviewed March 29, 2021

Grade: B-

Many times in cinema there exists a great premise for a good film that is a great idea only and the follow-through falls apart. Vacancy (2007) is one such film. Especially a vibrant story for a horror film, the first half is way better than the latter half as we can enjoy wondering what will happen next?

The film fumbles the football midway through once it’s revealed who the killer (or killers?) are and never gets its bearings back. It’s still an okay watch but the possibilities could have taken the film to another level. Instead, we get too much predictability.

The idea seems great because it’s very similar territory to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho. Think Bates Motel and a crazed killer not unlike Anthony Perkins, sans the good chemistry and motivation. The killer (or killers?) has no good motivation.

Vacancy is really a mish-mash of other recent horror efforts including Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), and Joy Ride (2001). It takes standard material from each and mixes them, trying to create a fabulous concoction. This doesn’t work so well. Instead, it just feels like a combination of the other films with a similar look and feel.

Since director Nimród Antal is Hungarian this would explain the Hostel pattern which also features a European vibe even though Vacancy is set somewhere off a mountain road in the United States.

A young couple lost in a deserted area near a seedy hotel will likely freak anyone out. What if my car breaks down and I have no cell phone and am not sure where I am, the viewer immediately thinks? Throw in a serial killer and you’ve frightened the bejeesus out of just about anyone. To make matters worse the characters in Vacancy choose to watch horror films on television for fun- not a smart decision.

When David’s (Luke Wilson) and Amy’s (Kate Beckinsale) car breaks down, they have no choice but to spend the night at a remote hotel. The couple decides to make the best of it by entertaining themselves with low-budget slasher movies on TV. They suddenly realize that the horrifying images they see look were recorded in the room in which they are staying!

With hidden cameras capturing their every move, David and Amy must find a way out before they become the latest stars in another film in the series of snuff films. At first, they panic then try to use good sense and figure out what the heck is going on and how they can escape this crazy hotel room.

Besides the plot loopholes, there really is not good chemistry between Wilson and Beckinsale which doesn’t do the film any favors. David and Amy are merely your average ordinary horror movie characters. They are on the verge of divorce due to some family tragedy that is never explained nor has anything to do with the events.

They have some measure of smarts and it is interesting to see how they finagle out of their peril but nor are they James Bond either so their actions are implausible and become riddled with B-movie cliches. By the halfway point Vacancy, which starts quite well, is reduced to a standard horror film with an average cat and mouse final sequence made completely predictable.

Speaking of cliches, Antal adds the too-good-to-be-true auto mechanic played by Ethan Embry, clearly the prime suspect, and Mason, the desk clerk. Is he a suspect too? These characters are a hybrid of Norman Bates and up to a point make the film fun. Once their true colors are revealed it becomes silly.

Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale do what they can with a less than a spectacular script that takes us too often into familiar territory and borrows way too much from other films. Vacancy (2007) has some potential that never becomes realized or feels fresh.

The Hunt-2020

The Hunt-2020

Director-Craig Zobel

Starring-Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank

Scott’s Review #1,117

Reviewed February 26, 2021

Grade: B

A disturbing satirical effort presumably produced because of the volatile United States political climate circa the 2016-2020 time-period, The Hunt (2020) is timely and thought-provoking. The premise is admittedly intriguing and relevant.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t always come together and has little character development. It is cartoon-like and mired in B-movie appeal. I wanted much more background from the characters to figure out what made them tick. It’s not always clear if the film’s intent is to provide dark comedy, provoke horror, or mock stereotypes. Perhaps a bit of each?

The Hunt is quite violent and bloody like a horror film should be but has tinges of cerebralism. Your political affiliation will dictate which characters you root for. Unclear is if the message evoked is a liberal slant or a conservative one and which side the filmmaker’s lean.

Who is the target audience, liberals or conservatives?

While the effort is praise-worthy and will undoubtedly leave the viewer pondering many, details some confusing elements aren’t worked through. There is also ridiculousness that doesn’t work.

On the plus side, The Hunt includes two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, one of my favorite modern actresses! She doesn’t appear until the finale but it was the high point for me.

Twelve strangers wake up in a forest clearing. They have no idea where they are or how they got there, or what country they are even in. A large box is in the middle of the field. When they pry it open a pig emerges along with a plethora of guns and ammunition. Confused, rapid gunfire erupts from the forest and the group realizes they have been kidnapped and are being hunted for their conservative beliefs.

With most of the group dead, Crystal (Betty Gilpin) and Don (Wayne Duvall) traverse the nearby locale which includes an Arkansas service station and other booby traps. To make matters worse, it is uncertain whether the people they encounter are enemies or allies. Finally, they realize they are really in Croatia.

It’s quickly revealed that a group of liberal corporate executives led by Athena Stone (Swank) anticipates an upcoming hunt of “deplorables” at a manor through a group text. Done as a joke, they are caught, fired, and decide to set out to really perform the hunt as revenge for their dismissals.

Let’s mention how each side is portrayed because it’s important. The liberals are portrayed as elitist, martini-sipping, kale-eating, judgemental “libtards” who mock conservatives at every turn. They are overly politically correct, live in a bubble, and are essentially pricks.

The conservatives are written as racist, dumb, simple-minded, poorly dressed people who love their guns and believe in conspiracy theories. Crystal is written to be a bad-ass tomboy from Mississippi who can shoot guns, blow things up, and fight. Her character is overdone and not my favorite, although the twist at the end and the references to George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) are pleasing.

The opening sequence and the final sequence are the best parts of The Hunt. As the liberals fly in luxury, sipping champagne and munching on caviar, a conservative wanders to the front of the plane and is killed. At this point, the premise isn’t yet revealed so the audience has no idea what is going on. This immediately made me engaged and intrigued.

I loved the final fight sequence between Crystal and Athena. Craig Zobel who directed The Hunt borrows heavily from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003-2004) during this scene and the result is a marvelous battle involving kitchen knives, glasses, blood, and bruises.

The Hunt (2020) is a brave and clever effort. I only wish the mechanics of the characters were better explored. My takeaway is the intent is not to take the film too seriously. But, I wanted to.

Q: The Winged Serpent-1982

Q: The Winged Serpent-1982

Director-Larry Cohen

Starring-Michael Moriarty, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree

Scott’s Review #1,112

Reviewed February 15, 2021

Grade: B-

A campy and tongue-in-cheek work, Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) is an amusing monster movie affair. It’s best suited for the post-midnight hour when not much else is on television. I jest because it’s really not a bad watch at all, but neither is it to be taken very seriously.

It’s terribly overacted, overplayed, and over-the-top and not remembered very well. In fact, soon after watching it I almost forgot the entire experience.

This is never a positive for a film. Q: The Winged Serpent is forever destined for placement in the cult horror category for a good laugh or three. Sadly, most will laugh at the film rather than with it.

There are tidbits added about the mass media, politics, and even the police force that don’t seem necessary for this type of film and don’t really go anywhere. A film like Q: The Winged Serpent should stick to entertaining the audience instead of incorporating any serious messages.

Larry Cohen, best known for cheap horror and science fiction films directs Michael Moriarty as Jimmie Quinn, an angry aspiring jazz pianist who leads a life of crime to get by. Purely by accident, he stumbles upon Q,  a winged, dragon-like, female lizard, who resides atop New York City’s Chrysler Building. The police are on the hunt for Q, who enjoys killing residents atop rooftops for fun. Jimmie plans to tell the police where Q lives, for a price tag of one million dollars.

Speaking of Cohen, never did he deliver better work than when he directed an episode of the Showtime Masters of Horror anthology in 2006. The episode, entitled “Pick Me Up” was fantastic and also starred Moriarty.

We never really know why Q arrives in Manhattan. There is a quick reference that she is an Aztec god or something, but we never know what motivates her or why she slices and dices New Yorkers. Maybe there is some message of overindulgence there, but we never find out much about her or really care why she is who she is.

There is a silly side story of the detectives cheating Jimmie out of his just desserts which only makes the police seem like assholes. Life in New York City during the 1980s was fraught with crime and corruption and while the knock against authority might be justified it’s also not entirely helpful either.

David Carradine and Richard Roundtree play the main detectives which adds a bit of star quality to the picture. Neither of them has much substance to do and adds little beyond name recognition to one-note roles.

The best parts of Q: The Winged Serpent are the genuineness of the filming. It was really shot on location in and around New York City’s Chrysler Building and uses the interior of the building’s tower crown as a primary location. This is fabulous for fans who have never been inside the historic building or for those who have it’s a cool reminder of just how incredible the building is.

Many shots of mid-town Manhattan are included which is an absolute treat.

Cohen also wrote and produced the film so he clearly has a passion for the project he is admirable for. He wasn’t simply some hired gun for an uninspired effort. He is setting out to create a nod to the legendary monster-horror film King Kong (1933) or those old Japanese monster films of the 1950s like Godzilla where a monster wreaks havoc on a metropolis.

The special effects for the flying serpent are not very good and seem quite amateurish and clay-like. Therefore, the entire tone of Q: The Winged Serpent is that of a B-movie. I’m not usually a CGI fan, but the film could have used a boost in that department.

Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) gives a nice representation of life in another time in New York City. I loved the cabs, the traffic, the noise, the grizzled residents, the street vendors, and the corruption. The film is largely messy and uninspired, but not completely a dud either.

P2-2007

P2-2007

Director-Franck Khalfoun

Starring-Rachel Nichols, Wes Bentley

Scott’s Review #1,106 

Reviewed January 29, 2021

Grade: B

Franck Khalfoun, a French filmmaker known for the horror genre, makes his directorial debut with P2 (2007). As a horror buff, the film has a great premise which made me immediately want to see it. Unfortunately, while the film has its moments of intrigue and plenty of gore, the climax ultimately disappoints and it turns run-of-the-mill. Like many of its modern horror brethren, there is little that separates it from other similar films.

It’s fine Saturday night viewing fare but quite predictable.

Films set during the Christmas holiday and especially in festive New York City always enrapture me so P2 gets a leg up. The film doesn’t utilize the holiday very well save for a smattering of decorations within an office building, some snow, and one creepy holiday song.

Set on Christmas Eve, the plot follows a young businesswoman named Angela (Rachel Nichols) who becomes trapped in an underground parking garage in midtown Manhattan, where she is pursued by a psychopathic unhinged security guard (Wes Bentley) who is obsessed with her.

Bentley, known for his terrific role in American Beauty (1999) is the main reason to see this film. He plays creepy and obsessed very well and is a great villain. His piercing blue eyes are intense and frightening and his obsession with Elvis Presley and his dog is revealed. He is clearly disturbed though for no apparent reason, which is not positive to any character development. Why is he crazy?

When Thomas plays Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” over the intercom it’s a festive and delightfully morbid highlight.

I desired to know what makes Thomas tick and why he prays on Angela. Has he been watching her for months or does he simply see an opportunity on this particular night and go for the gusto? The plot reveals a bit of both which is unsatisfying because there is no payoff. Does he knock out and kidnap Angela because she rebuffs his advances or would he have done this anyway if she agreed to dinner?

He is in love with her but why? It’s not that she isn’t a catch. She is pretty and a successful businesswoman with a good head on her shoulders. Does she reject him because she gets a bad vibe or because he’s a security guard? I wanted more backstory for both main characters but once she is chained to a table it hardly matters. He’s gone too far off the deep especially after it’s revealed he has killed others. Thomas’s motivations are not satisfying.

Nichols, a novice actress, is very good at her role. She carries the film and is in a state of peril most of the time. But she neither overacts nor plays the victim. There is a nice balance of terror and figuring out what steps to take to save her life and flee the madman.

P2 possesses a female-empowerment vibe but Angela does appear in skimpy clothing thus issuing the standard state of undress required by their female stars, a formula many horror films stick to. Angela is smart, quick-thinking, and strong. She tries to outsmart her capturer and more often than not she does and she is victorious in the end. Surprise!

I noticed multiple nods to the Saw (2004-2017) franchise since this series introduced and embraced the torture-horror genre. Many horror films used this technique to shock and startle viewers instead of providing clever writing or story. The use of videotape appears in P2 which borrows heavily from Saw.

P2 (2007) is a fine effort and will satisfy horror fans. It may tread into familiar territory and back itself into a corner with limited story possibility, but I did look over my shoulder a couple of times after viewing the film when I was in my building’s parking garage. Ironically, I was on level P2. Maybe the film did leave an impression after all?

Terror Train-1980

Terror Train-1980

Director-Roger Spottiswoode

Starring-Ben Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis

Scott’s Review #1,098

Reviewed January 5, 2021

Grade: B+

Terror Train (1980) is a creepy slasher film released amid the heyday of the genre’s popularity. It embraces a familiar formula of teenage party victims but adds a helping of red herrings/whodunit twists, which catapults it above mediocrity and will keep audiences engaged until the finale.

Helpful is the casting of the “scream queen” of the time, Jamie Lee Curtis, who is the main attraction and obviously the “final girl”. Her casting adds credibility and star power. The film serves as a puzzle and the ending is difficult to predict with many twists and turns along the way. A perfect watch for a snowy New Year’s Eve, when the film is set.

Events begin three years before the happenings in the main story, naturally at a New Year’s Eve fraternity party, inhabited by a group of energetic pre-medical students looking for a good time. Alana Maxwell (Curtis) is coaxed into participating in a cruel joke meant to lure an insecure pledge, Kenny (Derek MacKinnon) to a bedroom with the promise of sex. Instead of becoming a light-hearted prank the group later laughs about, the joke spirals Kenny into insanity and a long stay at a mental institution.

Reunited for another party, this time on a train, bitter cold and snowy New Year’s Eve is again the setting. The same group, now forgetting all about the prank, unwittingly boards the train for a night of booze, laughs, and partying. This time, a costume party is on the menu, which is convenient for a disguised killer intending to spend the night murdering the partygoers. He first kills Ed (Howard Busgang) on the tracks and takes his Groucho Marx costume to confuse everyone else. A mysterious magician and assistant are aboard to provide entertainment.

The film belongs to Curtis, of course. The idea was to create “Halloween on a train”. As much as Halloween (1978) is superior and scarier, Terror Train is cleverer. Many a red herring can be found throughout the story so that a deduction of the killer’s identity can quickly be questioned. Curtis, a popular star with the younger set in 1980, inevitably led fans to the movie theater to see Terror Train. The comparisons to Halloween are apt- both feature disguises, masks, costumes, and mayhem.

The casting of Ben Johnson as Carne, the train conductor, an actor making films since the 1930s, and winning an Oscar for The Last Picture Show in 1971, provides the patriarchal character like Donald Pleasance did in Halloween. Despite the vulnerability of being on a train speeding through the middle of nowhere on a frigid winter night with a killer on board, having a father figure and voice of reason is reassuring. And the casting agents were lucky to get him.

The vibe in Terror Train is great and the setting works wonderfully. An ode to Hitchcock, the train is an effective place for suspense or murder. The victims have few places to hide and a long tube with dark seats and hidden compartments while they disappear one by one is perfect horror fodder.

The gripe is that the identity of the killer is painfully obvious. Spoiler alert- it’s who you think it is! After the film, I was left feeling tricked and bamboozled. But, just like the mysterious magician, all is not what it seems. Newcomer director, Roger Spottiswood, casts real-life magician, David Copperfield, for good effect, and the star does a fairly good job of adding tension and looking sinister. When the big revelation is upon us, a cool gender-bender treat awaits, but the killer is predictable, nonetheless.

A quick nod to the inclusion of some diversity, few and far between in 1980 slasher fare. One of the fraternity brothers is a black male. The character is handsome, arrogant, and quickly gets his comeuppance, but the addition is to be noted.

Terror Train (1980) is an atmospheric and surprisingly good holiday-themed slasher film that flies under the radar. Snuggle under a warm blanket, break open the midnight champagne, and enjoy the claustrophobic and frightening post-Christmas trimmings.

The Witches-1967

The Witches-1967

Director-Cyril Frankel

Starring-Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh

Scott’s Review #1,096

Reviewed December 29, 2020

Grade: B

Legendary film actress Joan Fontaine chose a Hammer horror film as her final role. While not high-brow art, these films are entertaining and a fun treat for horror fans. They are frequently macabre, clever, and make the most of a small budget. In The Witches (1967), Fontaine leads the way adding class and huge star quality. The film is good, but not great, with an unfulfilling ending. The cinematography and Fontaine’s involvement are the best aspects.

Also worthy of mention in the acting department is Kay Walsh, a talented British actress, who is terrific as the seemingly kind woman turned crazed witch. She adds professionalism to a pivotal role. The other supporting actors play their parts well to ensure that the craft of acting is respected. I adore the British flair that Hammer films always have.

Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield, an English schoolteacher who accepts a new job as the headmistress of the local school in the quaint village of Heddaby. The quiet town is exactly what Gwen needs after suffering a nervous breakdown while residing in Africa. She experiences a small flirtation with the Reverend Alan Bax (Alec McCowen), who confesses that he is not overly religious. Stephanie is his sister, played by Walsh.

Before long, Gwen becomes immersed in the worlds of two of her students, Ronnie (Martin Stephens) and Linda (Ingrid Brett). Ronnie insists that Linda is being abused, which prompts Gwen to investigate. Meanwhile, Gwen discovers a voodoo doll and sleuths to find out what is going on in the village. Events lead her to a sanitarium, and finally to a coven of witches, intent on human sacrifice.

The Witches has a late 1960’s look and feel which gives some sophistication. Gwen is draped in stylish clothes and jewelry and wears a cute, trendy bob haircut. The set design is cool with groovy, colorful furniture that enhances the tight budget to full advantage.  Alan and Stephanie’s estate is particularly impressive with modern furniture, drapes, and various trimmings.

Another positive is the hefty amount of exterior sequences offered. Director, Cyril Frankel, who directed many episodes of the popular British television series, The Avengers, provides a similar production so The Witches feels like a long episodic series. The luxurious English village is sunny, calming, and atmospheric brightening the atmosphere of the film. This counterbalances the themes of demons, voodoo, and witches, well.

Frankel builds the story momentum throughout The Witches at a good pace, but this is lost in the final act, which is way too abrupt. During the first three-quarters of the production, we are led to believe that Gwen is either crazy, imagining the strange events, or that one of the townspeople is gaslighting her. It’s easy to deduce the latter is what is going on, and the fun is figuring out who or who is doing the dirty deeds.

When the culprit is revealed (and it’s displayed on the cover art!), the conclusion is underwhelming. An attempted cemetery human ritual to remove life from Linda and infuse into Stephanie so that she can live forever is weak. After an odd sequence of the townspeople dancing and writhing around like nutcases in an unintentionally laugh-out loud example of overacting, Gwen foils Stephanie’s plan. The witch succumbs to death, a victim of her own heinous plan backfiring.

It is hinted that Gwen and Alan (who is revealed to be good) will forge a romance in the future, but I would have liked if we had gotten more of a taste of their budding attraction during the film. Still, it is likely the two will ride off into the sunset together in safety.

While not as gory as other Hammer films, The Witches (1967) instead casts exceptionally well and tells a decent story, interesting until the low-key finale. I expected a bit more from the ending, which simmers out instead of electrifying.

Gretel & Hansel-2020

Gretel & Hansel-2020

Director-Oz Perkins

Starring-Sophia Lillis, Alice Krige, Sammy Leakey

Scott’s Review #1,088

Reviewed December 5, 2020

Grade: B+

Gretel & Hansel (2020) is not a film with a plot that makes complete sense, but in this instance that’s okay, making the experience creepier by the wonderful trimmings provided. A horror film released in the month of January has the cards stacked against it- most studios use quarter one as a dumping ground for films with little box-office hope or much fanfare. Predictably, the film flopped, but it’s a diamond in the rough.

For fans of horror post 2010, this film immediately reminded me of The Witch, the 2015 independent film, and the directorial debut by director and screenwriter Robert Eggers. The slow pacing and assumed seventeenth century remote village setting is an instant comparison. The dark sets and candle lit scenes grabbed me in their startlingly good ambience.

With exceptional cinematography, eerie lighting and the obvious Brothers Grimm fairy tale theme, always a plus in horror, who cares if the t’s are all crossed. The elements supersede the story, though with a witch and two children at play I was immediately hooked. The follow through is crooked and confusing, not the wrapped up in a bow variety. Expect to be perplexed by the ending.

We are provided a quick story of a little girl wearing a pink dress who frightens the village with her special powers. Because she nearly died as a baby and was taken to an enchantress who saved her life, she is odd. She makes her father commit suicide and causes other deaths, so she is taken to the middle of the forest to fend for herself or starve. She manages to find her own way and makes other children die. Pay close attention because this story will tie into the end of the film.

In present times we meet Gretel (Sophia Lillis) and Hansel (Sam Leakey). Gretel is sixteen years old while Hansel is eight. Their mother goes mad and they are forced to provide for themselves as they hit the road. Gretel is both drawn to and fascinated by the story of the girl in the pink dress. They eventually stumble upon a cabin with tons of lovely food, which they hungrily devour. A mysterious woman named Holda/The Witch (Alice Krige) takes them in, but is there a price the children must pay for the riches they enjoy?

Unclear is where the film is set. Is it Germany, where the folklore is derived? Is it supposed to be in the United States? The actors have American accents. It was shot in Ireland, but this hardly matters. It’s a village and a forest in an anywhere land though I fantasized the setting was a northern country like Norway or Finland. Maybe the ambiguity is a good thing.

I like how Gretel & Hansel has a feminist vibe and the perspective is from her point of view. That is why her character is older, hence the title. She is a coming-of-age teenager, so there is a more measured approach. Gretel even has a short pixie, almost boyish herself, giving the character a more modern look. This serves the film well adding an interesting take on the classic fairy tale.

There’s also a weird mommy theme played out in two different stories that end up connecting. Gretel and Hansel’s mother are psychotic while Holda is revealed to be a mother herself and harbors a deep secret about what she does with children who wonder into her house. Spoiler alert- it isn’t good.

The acting is very good especially on the part of Sophia Lillis as Gretel and Alice Krige as Holda. Lillis, an up and coming star after appearing in It (2017) and It: Chapter II (2019) is a talented commodity, while Krige gives Holda a ghastly and convincing persona. She is ambivalent and we mostly don’t know what to make of her, or what her intentions are. Lillis and Krige have delightful chemistry.

The cretins that the children meet along their journey to anywhere are worthy of any devilish story. A creepy gentleman who Gretel intends to cook and clean for to make money eyes her greedily and asks about her virginity. A bald wailing monster chases Gretel & Hansel but is shot by a stranger.

Anyone with a hankering for a good, old-fashioned, ghostly, gothic horror film, Gretel & Hansel (2020) is a recommended watch. The film has a hearty recipe of horror elements like eeriness, dark sets with illuminating lighting, and forbidding sequences in the forest featuring nice production design. It may leave you scratching your head but enjoy the ride.

Psychomania-1973

Psychomania-1973

Director-Don Sharp

Starring-Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, George Sanders

Scott’s Review #1,084

Reviewed November 19, 2020

Grade: B-

Psychomania (1973) is a film that has an intriguing premise turned messy and confusing by aspects not coming together. A motorcycle gang wreaking havoc on their English small town decides to kill themselves and come back from the dead to live forever. They intend to do so with the aid of witchcraft and a sinister cult. Unfortunately, neither the gang come back to everlasting life nor does the premise provide an adequate payoff. The film meanders along without much intrigue or interest except for an above-average finale. But even that is too little, too late.

Renowned film and television actor, George Sanders, famous for powerful roles in classics like Rebecca (1940) and All About Eve (1950), in which he won an Academy Award, and numerous other roles, co-stars as a butler.

His role in Psychomania is barely more than a throwaway part since he has little interest to do. Hardly the crowning achievement of his long career, he committed suicide soon after the shooting wrapped. Star, Nicky Henson joked that Sanders saw the finished film and overdosed on pills, realizing how far his career had descended. Hopefully, that’s an urban legend.

Beryl Reid, wonderfully bitchy in The Killing of Sister George (1968) as a lesbian soap opera star is similarly downgraded, playing a glamorous matron who gets her kicks by holding seances for her neighbors. She is the mother of the psychopathic leader of a violent teen gang.

Tom Latham (Henson) is the handsome leader of “The Living Dead”, said motorcycle gang, who enjoy driving around town intimidating folks. He is joined by his pretty girlfriend, Abby (Mary Larkin), who is good-natured and not as rebellious as the others. Tom has time to flirt with other girls and uses his good looks to his advantage. He is in cahoots with his mother (Reid), and they have a penchant for frogs and black magic.

The gang decides, through Tom’s encouragement, to each commit suicide and if they really believe in it, they will return as one of the “undead”. Each follows suit, except for Abby, and engages in ritualistic activities at their hangout, “The Seven Witches”, which is a poor man’s Stonehenge. They decide to kill Abby because of her defiance.

The DVD quality (mine anyway) was atrocious and did the film no favors. My enjoyment would have increased if the luscious English landscape and its vibrant colors could have been capitalized on. Mrs. Latham’s home, filled with creative antiques and oddities, would have been enhanced with better quality.

The story never comes together. I like the main character of Tom and find his sneering and posturing appealing in a light-hearted way. Henson is way too good-looking to be believable as a foreboding and crazy guy, but he sure is easy on the eyes. No chemistry is to be found between him and Larkin, but they are cast well for this type of film- looks over acting talent. Neither is terrible in the acting department nor great either.

The supporting characters look very British and of the 1970s, which is to be expected. This isn’t an annoyance as much as an astute observance. From the doctors who perform the autopsies to the constables, to the chief inspector, everyone looks their part. Psychomania has a 1970’s look and feels, so it ultimately feels like a dated film because there is not much else to distinguish it from others. It’s adequate, but little more.

On the positive, some of the music is chirpy and hip, which adds a bit of an upbeat, contemporary vibe. The numerous motorcycle scenes make me wonder if a motorcycle company has stock in the film but surprisingly works.

The film, targeted as a horror film, is a strange one to categorize. The cult and witchcraft elements give off that vibe. The title of Psychomania (1973) creates a motorcycle/horror effect. I’m not sure what to make of this film other than a sleazy, greasy, devil-worshipping mess. Poor Don Sharp, well-known for directing many Hammer horror films, seems not to know what to do with the silly script he is handed. It’s a goofy comedy or straight-ahead horror?

Horror of Dracula-1958

Horror of Dracula-1958

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee

Scott’s Review #1,083

Reviewed November 17, 2020

Grade: B+

The first colorized retelling of the classic vampire film starring Bela Lugosi from 1931, Horror of Dracula (1958) infuses style and a modern feel into the production making it a formidable entry as compared to the original. The film launched the popular and delightful British Hammer Horror film series, which included eight Dracula sequels.

British horror films nearly always add macabre elements and a British sophistication that merge class with gothic, and the film is a perfect late-night watch during the Halloween season for maximum effect. The atmospheric tone is key and will leave horror fans in bliss. The addition of horror stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee only increase the pleasures.

On a gloomy night in 1885, a librarian named Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at Count Dracula’s castle in Romania to begin his new assignment. Secretly a vampire hunter, he is bitten by a desperate woman, really a vampire, begging for help. Jonathan manages to kill the woman but is then killed by Dracula (Lee). Doctor Van Helsing (Cushing) arrives at the castle to investigate, but Dracula already has designs on Jonathan’s fiancée, Lucy (Carol Marsh). A battle of good versus evil ensues.

Lee brings sexuality to Dracula that Lugosi lacks, though Lugosi is the creepier of the two. I love the close-up scenes where Dracula bears his enormous fangs and his eyes turn red in good close-up style. The casting of Lee is perfect as he becomes identifiable even in the first installment. I also love how Lee is a tall man, giving the character a menacing, foreboding, distinguished look. Many might secretly welcome him nibbling on their necks!

Cushing, later to be cast as villains, is wonderful as the empathetic Van Helsing. Lee and Cushing play well against each other. Van Helsing is stoic and confident as he smoothly leads the charge against Dracula and guides Jonathan’s loved ones into unchartered and unimaginable territory. It’s almost as if he has been through this before. A great scene occurs when Van Helsing arrives in town for a brandy and a drink at the local pub, its inhabitants suspicious and frightened, draping garlic over the entryway and hoping he will leave soon.

The best part of House of Dracula is the atmosphere that we are treated to and the color really razzles dazzles. The story is very good, but the texture powerfully shines through. Careful not to be too showy, director Terence Fisher, soon to be a Hammer horror main fixture, uses his limited budget to his advantage in clever form.

Fisher realized his project was a colorized version and created a polished looking, colorful, stained glass window, prevalent in several scenes. Dracula’s castle, and especially the bedroom where Jonathan stayed, is part cozy and homespun, part gothic and chilling. The cellar crypt is equally vast yet confining, as the open coffins provide wonders of who lies in them. The plethora of books elicits a cerebral feeling.

The finale is well done, but not as spectacular as expected. Other parts are better. Van Helsing chases Dracula in a race against the sunrise, ripping curtains down to provide harsh light, and turning Dracula to dust. I was expecting a little more gusto and more blood or a good stake through the heart. Fortunately, that entertainment was provided earlier in the film.

Shamefully, having never read the 1897 Gothic horror novel written by Bram Stroker (it’s on my list!), my understanding is that the film is pretty on target. The film bestows creepy elements and sexuality with great color, lighting, and set design. The lesson learned is that a hefty budget and CGI can’t replicate the creative design and good effects.

House of Wax-1953

House of Wax-1953

Director-Andre De Toth

Starring-Vincent Price, Phyllis Kirk

Scott’s Review #1,081

Reviewed November 13, 2020

Grade: B+

House of Wax (1953) is a classic horror film that should be watched by anyone with a fondness for the genre as the macabre elements make it a must-see. Be sure to watch the 1953 version and not the mediocre 2005 remake that starred Paris Hilton with a severely changed storyline. Interestingly, the 1950’s version is a remake of a 1933 film named Mystery of the Wax Museum, which I was not aware of until recently. Pre-code 1930’s horror is brilliant, so I cannot wait to watch this offering soon.

The production has the honor of being the first color 3-D film released by a major film studio and the result is stylish and impressive for that early in cinema. If this isn’t enough, the incomparable Vincent Price also has the starring role. With these riches, one could anticipate a masterpiece like Frankenstein (1931) or King Kong (1933). It’s not quite on that level with a B-movie vibe but rises immensely in respectability with exquisite human art, a chilling premise, and a lesson in historical figures of long ago. The film is a very short eighty-eight minutes.

The haunting and atmospheric opening titles, to immediately showcase the 3-D, appear in the first shot, alongside a rainy and dreary New York City set. The time is the early 1900’s. Director, Andre De Toth makes clear to his audience that it’s a 3-D film with the bold title leaping out of the screen within seconds. This sets the tone perfectly as the illustrious wax museum set is up next. Wax creations like Marie Antoinette, John Wilkes Booth, and Joan of Arc pose in the vast gallery.

Henry Jarrod (Price) is a Professor who views his creations as his children, each unique and human-like to him. Marie is his ultimate masterpiece and one wonders if she is his fantasy wife. His business partner, Burke (Roy Roberts) wants out of their partnership and goes to drastic measures to gain insurance money. He sets fire to the museum which burns to the ground, horribly disfiguring Henry. The Professor goes off the deep end and rebuilds the museum using real human beings that he steals from the morgue! Frankenstein’s influence is obvious.

Other than Price, the star of the film is the wax museum, almost a character, but never upstages Price. Henry is both sympathetic and menacing, and I felt sorry for the guy. Not only is his house of wax destroyed, but he has a disfigured face for life. His insurance policy benefit is of little comfort, nor is killing the man responsible for his misfortune.

I guess we are supposed to root for Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) and Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni), who are the main couple, and attempt to solve the mystery of why the wax figures look like dead people they know. They are not the strongest element of the film, though. Like other famous horror villains Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter, Henry is appealing, and we like him.

I would have liked to learn more about Henry before his ruination. Besides a brief tour of his museum, where he cleverly describes each work, we don’t know much about his life. He is creepy, but what else? Has he ever married? What are his parents like?

Charles Bronson and Carolyn Jones have small roles as Henry’s mute assistant Igor and Burke’s gold-digging girlfriend, Cathy, respectively. This is fun since both went on to legendary careers in film and television.

A must-see for anyone studying cinematic technique or good horror trimmings, House of Wax (1953) contains state-of-the-art effects for the time, illuminating gas-lit streets of New York City, and a finale that includes a boiling hot vat of molten wax (what else!) that clearly inspired a James Bond film. These facets are nice, but any horror film starring Vincent Price is worth the price of admission.

The Nightcomers-1972

The Nightcomers-1972

Director-Michael Winner

Starring-Marlon Brando, Stephanie Beacham

Scott’s Review #1,080

Reviewed November 11, 2020

Grade: B-

The Nightcomers (1972) is a disappointing prequel to Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, which had already been adapted into the 1961 film The Innocents. The dreadful title is neither catchy nor means anything specific to the film. The lackluster and unmemorable result is jarring given the masterpiece that is The Innocents. Unclear is whether the intention was to build on the film or directly base it on the novella forgetting The Innocents. Not worth the effort is to ruminate over the answer.

The most interesting comparison is that the film was released the same year as The Godfather (1972), in which the iconic role of Vito Corleone, the mafia head of household, and arguably the best role of Marlon Brando’s career, was created. Mirrored against his role as a bizarre gardener named Peter Quint, with a broken Irish accent, one can guess why one role is memorable and why the other isn’t.

Flora (Verna Harvey) and Miles (Christopher Ellis) are recently orphaned children living in a vast English estate. Their absent guardian pays for the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Thora Hird), and governess, Miss Jessel (Stephanie Beacham) to keep things running smoothly. Jessel and Peter embark on a torrid and sometimes abusive relationship that the children witness and emulate through play-acting. Flora and Miles suffer from isolation and must use their imaginations to make the best of their idle days.

Watching in sequence with The Innocents is not encouraged. The Nightcomers is best served as a stand-alone product. The events and continuity are muddy and will confuse the most astute viewer. Flora is much older than she is in The Innocents even though the action takes place before those events. The characters being played by different actors doesn’t help. Finally, The Nightcomers contains none of the ghostly mystique and spookiness that The Innocents do. So, it is advisable is to watch putting The Innocents out of mind.

Admittedly, events do come together in the final act and the best part of the film. When two simultaneous deaths occur, they are quite shocking and powerfully filmed. I felt more emotionally invested during the final ten-minute sequence than I had for the rest of the film.

Brando has one emotional scene worthy of his talents. Given the actor’s powerful chops, he can make any scene believable, but this is cream of the crop material. Stephanie Beacham is an okay casting choice, but I never felt the chemistry or connection between Jessel and Quint. Their relationship didn’t work for me. Suspension of disbelief is required to power through a scene where a character drowns in what looks like two feet of water, making the scene lose some power.

Harvey and Ellis as the children are okay but nothing spectacular. I am jaded to compare again to The Innocents, but those actors are just better and more haunting, especially the character of Miles. The subject of mental illness and the questioning of reality versus imagination is not as explored in The Nightcomers.

The production is not a total dud, containing enough exterior elements of the plush and English landscape to please and make viewers feel they are on the country manor themselves. The interior scenes are just as good. The children gallop through the enormous house to their heart’s delight making the viewer feel like a kid along with them.

The sadomasochistic scenes between Peter and Miss Jessel are quite titillating and border on the X-rated. During the bedroom scenes, I nearly blushed from embarrassment. But, as erotic as they are they also don’t do much to further the plot or add to the story. They have a kinky sex life- so what? There is also a weird suggestion of incest since Flora and Miles imitate what Quint and Jessel do, how far would they take it? The plot has the good possibilities, but the film and the direction are not executed well, and things don’t come together.

If you’ve never heard of The Innocents (1961) then The Nightcomers (1972) is recommended. If viewing a cinematic masterpiece is desired, however, stick with the former and never look back.

House of Dark Shadows-1970

House of Dark Shadows-1970

Director-Dan Curtis

Starring-Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall

Scott’s Review #1,079

Reviewed November 9, 2020

Grade: B

House of Dark Shadows (1970) is undoubtedly meant mostly as a treat for fans of the popular gothic soap-opera, Dark Shadows, which aired on ABC television from 1966-1971. The soap was groundbreaking for its gloominess and its focus on the world of vampires, eliminating the tried and true apple pie wholesomeness of serials like As the World Turns and The Guiding Light. The film was an enormous hit with followers at the time of release and while it can be enjoyed by all, it screams of having a specific target audience in mind.

Released during the height of the television show’s popularity in 1970, it must have been enthralling to be the first feature film based on a daytime soap opera. And how exciting for fans to see their favorites on the silver screen. I tried to keep this in mind as I was watching, and it helped me enjoy it more. In later years I watched bits of season one, so some knowledge exists.

If memory serves, some of the action happens in the series and in the film (like Barnabas rising from his coffin), but that doesn’t seem important and served as more of a recap to me. The film is entertaining enough on its own merits in a spooky, atmospheric way, although besides more blood and chills, it follows the same formula that the series did.

Our star, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) emerges from his coffin in the family mausoleum much to the chagrin of the family handyman and introduces himself to the Collins family as a distant cousin from England.

He has an uncanny resemblance to a figure on a portrait displayed in the estate that is over a hundred years old. A fancy ball is thrown to celebrate the family where Barnabas bites Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) turning her into a vampire. He quickly becomes obsessed with governess Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott) while awakening suspicions in psychologist, Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall).

The whole package is stylish and haunting with lots of necessary goth attire like coffins, capes, fangs, and blood-red lips. The production style is appealing and not the least bit cheesy or amateurish.

The famous Lyndhurst estate in Tarrytown, New York was used during the shoot and with good results. The interior lavish, the exterior is just as grand with lush grounds and a hidden driveway being useful to the plot. The eerie attic with macabre and stifling trimmings is vital in one scene. This works much better than a studio set, and the overall production is superior to the series.

The final thirty minutes or so is the best part with a cool Hammer horror likeness. When Julia gives Barnabas, a powerful injection meant to cause him to age rapidly, all hell breaks loose. You see, while Barnabas is obsessed with Maggie, Julia is secretly in love with Barnabas, so the dramatic soap opera necessities are intact. The makeup during this sequence is highly effective and downright creepy.

Other characters are likable and respectable to the film, but the acting isn’t so great, which reduces the believability factor just a bit. Stalwarts like Joan Bennett as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, Roger Davis as Jeff Clark, and David Henesy as little David Collins have prominent roles. It’s an ensemble effort as each character has something to do to support the main story. This is a nice add-on and gives everyone time to shine.

Regardless of knowledge of the daytime drama series, one can enjoy the film on its own merits, though how exciting it must have been for fans to see their favorites on the silver screen in 1970. I am not sure how many viewers will need to invest in the film because it feels like a reward for viewers of the series and in the present-day a retro nostalgic experience. The series was again celebrated in a film with the mediocre 2012 effort entitled Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp.

House of Dark Shadows (1970) is a compelling watch around Halloween time since it has nice autumnal, gothic elements fitting for the season of the witch. The ghastly (in a good way) makeup and bloody bites and pretty people turned vampires, suffering from stakes through the heart is worth the watch.

Land of the Dead-2005

Land of the Dead-2005

Director-George A. Romero

Starring-Simon Baker, John Leguizamo

Scott’s Review #1,077

Reviewed November 6, 2020

Grade: C+

Land of the Dead (2005) is a post-apocalyptic horror film written and directed by George A. Romero, the fourth of Romero’s six Living Dead movies, preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985).

The result is a mediocre effort, plagued by poor acting and too much silliness. The goofy nature of the film negates any sense of foreboding or dread despite there being plenty of zombies.

The result is camp over horror instead of a blended mix of both which would have worked better.  To compare Land of the Dead to Night or Dawn is a tough ask since the formers are so much better and have political points to make. There is nothing like that in Land of the Dead besides a weak side story about the class distinction that goes nowhere, and some jokes about the Bush regime. That’s a shame because it would have made the film more relevant.

What we are served is a healthy dose of shoot ’em up or slice ’em up scenes where zombie heads or some other appendage are blown or sliced off. This is fun for a while, but I wanted something more. Wisely, and staying true to the other films, the events are set around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which helps with continuity. The geographical reference to the famous “three rivers” immediately identifying the city is used.

As events kick off, we learn that the zombie population has outnumbered the human population forcing the humans to barricade themselves within a structured community for safety. There exist the haves who live in a luxury high-rise and the have-nots who survive in squalor. Dennis Hopper plays the rigid government figure, Paul Kaufman, and our good guy is the handsome Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) who provides aid to those in need.

Conflict erupts when it’s discovered that the zombies exhibit superior intelligence. They storm the gates of the city in droves and wreak havoc on the people of the community. Other characters along for the ride are Cholo (John Leguizamo), Slack (Asia Argento- yes, daughter of famous horror director Dario Argento), and Charlie (Robert Joy). The rest of the film is a battle between good and evil (the zombies and greedy Paul) and not much else.

Why do zombies exhibit advanced intelligence? Are they cloning or are more humans becoming zombies? These questions are not answered.

Creatively, Land of the Dead looks good. It is stylistic, dark, and mysterious. Scenes, where zombies parade around in misty and gloomy conditions, are cool. The slicker and more commercial style gives a modern and fresh look and feel. Reminiscent of 28 Days Later, the 2002 offering by Danny Boyle, that’s not a bad thing though it’s tepid for Romero. 28 Days Later rejuvenated the zombie genre so patterning after it doesn’t hurt Land of the Dead.

Another positive is the homoerotic nature of the relationship between Cholo and Mike (Shawn Roberts), a rookie. Both masculine and aggressive, there exists a hint of tenderness and closeness that feels romantic. When Mike is bitten and commits suicide to avoid turning, Cholo is devastated, implying that they might have shared a close background. Unfortunately, this is never explored after Mike’s death.

On that note, the characters are not particularly interesting nor crafted well. Paul is merely bad, while Riley is heroic. Cholo is angry and rebellious, while Slack is a prostitute. Charlie is the sidekick. Everyone has their place, but little substance is given about their past lives, their hopes for the future, or anything more than escaping the zombies. I get that’s the goal, but more personal stuff would have been better.

The rest is what you would expect from a zombie film and nothing more, which feels lazy of Romero especially since he wrote the screenplay. He tends to deliver better products with some meaning or interpretation.

In Dawn of the Dead, for example, the zombies sought the mall because it was familiar to them. One could argue that a city and its lights offer more of the same, but this feels weak and has already been explored. I guess I was expecting more of something that would grab me into the world of the film and nothing ever did.

A forgettable affair, Land of the Dead (2005) does not require repeated viewings as its predecessors do. This film was one and done for me. Some trimmings and entertainment exist, but I yearned for more substance than a standard, Saturday late-night zombie-fest. There are enough of those already.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders-1970

Director-Jaromil Jires

Starring-Jaroslava Schallerova

Scott’s Review #1,076

Reviewed October 30, 2020

Grade: B+

One of the oddest films I’ve ever laid eyes on, the best way to view a film like Valerie and Her Week of Wonder (1970) is to absorb it and let it either pull you in or turn you off. The cadence is to feel the film and then search for any semblance of meaning or interpretation later, or perhaps never.

The genre or genres best to categorize the film art cinema meets fantasy meets horror meets fairy tale. Is it ever a bizarre experience. If one is to take hallucinogens first, this film is a recommended watch. The production is Czech and is translated to Valerie a týden divů in its native language. 

The story involves a week in the life of Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová), a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and the weird and sexual thoughts and desires she encounters while blossoming. She encounters witchcraft, vampires, and a bizarre Constable, who wears a mask. Valerie is raised by the strangest grandmother (Helena Anýžová) imaginable, who morphs into other characters named Mother and Redhead. Valerie does not live a boring life. One poster for the film is of a blooming flower with splotches of blood that can be interpreted as a girl losing her virginity.

To delve much further into the plot than a quick summary is wasteful because it doesn’t really make very much sense. Such activities such as Valerie’s grandmother making a pact with vampires to keep her young forever, Valerie lying in a coffin surrounded by rotten apples, and being burned at the stake, and finally being followed and menaced by her priest, are a few of the shenanigans the film presents. This is shrouded by some of the loveliest photography and scenery you’ve ever seen.

The creativity and the experimental nature of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders are what will allure an open-eyed viewer seeking something left-of-center….very left-of-center. The story is secondary. The medieval landscape is gothic and haunting, perfect for evil-doings and strangeness. Not to harp on this point, but the look of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the money shot. All else can be left by the sidelines.

The perspective is all Valerie’s, which is nice in an early 1970’s feminist way. It feels like Valerie is changing from girl to woman and a strong one at that. She is coming into her own after facing and challenging demons. In the mix is a handsome man who titillates Valerie. I felt like I was emerging into the girl’s subconscious and experiencing her fears and desires alongside her.

Critically speaking, I would have preferred a little more logic and wrap-up, but that’s just me. Surely, not a realistic interpretation, was the girl dreaming while asleep or merely delving into fantasy one day? The more I tried to follow the story and put together the pieces like working on a puzzle, the less this did me any favors. I then decided to space out and indulge in the other lovelies included. I should have done this from the beginning.

I am unsure how many Czech films I have seen if any, but Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a clear example of what Czech filmmakers can do and it’s crazy what they can come up with. The mystique is likely multiplied on American audiences and a viewer used to more formulaic approaches to film. With a desire for more put-together stories and logic, I nonetheless admired this film for the magic and style offered.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives-1986

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives-1986

Director-Tom McLoughlin

Starring-Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke

Scott’s Review #1,074

Reviewed October 26, 2020

Grade: B-

Due to the fan outrage that surrounded Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985), a film I thought was decent, the powers that be decided that a return to form was in order, quickly resurrecting Jason in the corniest of ways. Re-discovering the “real Jason” is not the worst idea in the world but the execution is not there and I’m not crazy about the introduction of “superhuman” Jason. How is anyone supposed to ever kill him?

Adding comedy and children is okay with me but both ideas largely fall flat when paired with inadequate acting and gimmicky sitcom situations with no character development. There is no time invested in getting to know any of the characters. The heavy metal soundtrack, featuring the music of Alice Cooper, is the best part. The film isn’t helped by a slicker 1980’s visual look though this does come with better production values. Not the greatest of all the Fridays.

The chapter gets off to a compelling start when Tommy (Thom Mathews) and his friend Allen Hawes (Ron Palillo- yes, Horshack from the Welcome Back Kotter television series) trudge through the rain and mud back to Camp Crystal Lake to finally bury Tommy’s demons.

Fans of the series will recall that Tommy did a stint in Pinehurst Halfway House and a pretend Jason went on a killing spree to avenge his son’s death. The friends dig up the grave of Jason. The murderer is struck by lightning and magically comes back to life, killing Allen. Tommy spends the rest of the film trying to warn the town that Jason is alive and well and back on a deadly rampage.

The camp has been renamed to the more pleasant-sounding Forest Green to make people forget that numerous killings have ever taken place. This seems to have worked as a busload of kid’s flock to the camp for a summer of fun along with the usual batch of camp counselors in tow.

To the film’s credit, like with its predecessor, there is a black character, this time a counselor named Sissy Baker (Renee Jones), and some of the child characters offer different ethnicities. The diversity and inclusiveness are to be admired, but unfortunately for Sissy, she is dragged through a window and savagely beheaded. Jason kindly spares the kids.

I like how there is consistency in keeping the main character Tommy Jarvis, albeit with a different actor. We’ll probably never know why it was decided to recast John Shepherd with Thom Mathews, but the actors look enough alike to avoid too much confusion. Like Shepherd, Mathews possesses a wounded look which makes the casting adequate.

There is a rooting quality to Tommy especially as he faces adversity with the police department. Sheriff Garris and Deputy Rick are played purely as foils and are a roadblock to capturing Jason.

Any attempt at romantic chemistry between Tommy and Megan (Jennifer Cooke) falls flat because there simply isn’t any between the actors, try as they might. Neither are the best actors in the world (not a requirement for the horror genre) but have the right, fresh-faced look warranted to be cast. Megan is the only person who believes Tommy as they race to the camp to stop and kill Jason.

The rest of the film is more of the same and offers no surprises except for more humor. A coked-up pair having sex in a motorhome and a group of corporate types on a paintball outing are examples of this. The four “suits” beheaded by a machete are the best part of the otherwise campy and obnoxious sequence. The rest of the characters are killed off systematically with nothing especially interesting to add to the film.

Writer and director Tom McLoughlin attempts to revitalize the aging series and genre with more special effects and techniques and does little else to freshen his characters. It would have been nice to get to know some of them better. By 1986 the slasher film needed rest and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is a dull entry in the series catalog. There is nothing terrible about the film, nor is there anything memorable either.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw-1971

The Blood on Satan’s Claw-1971

Director-Piers Haggard

Starring-Patrick Wymark, Linda Hayden

Scott’s Review #1,050

Reviewed August 7, 2020

Grade: B

I am always up for a good British horror film, the creepy musical score, the satanic elements, and the eclectic, good actors. Especially embraceable are offerings from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), also released as Satan’s Skin, is very reminiscent of both Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973), the three often lumped together in a small, brief sub-genre termed folk horror.

The film is not high art nor is it intended to be. Taking itself too seriously would ruin the experience. Instead, a gruesome low-budget offering is just what the doctor ordered for late-night sipping cocktails or doing your preferred enlightenment or sedative. The elements are all there- thunder and lightning, a perfect score, and English countryside.

The Blood on Satan’s Claw would have been dynamite if the choice to cast horror legend Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee came to fruition, but Cushing’s wife was dying of cancer and Lee wanted too high a salary, or so the story goes. Anyway, Patrick Wymark was awarded the lead role of a village judge. The actor had a penchant for booze and had to be watched closely. Sadly, he died soon after filming wrapped.

Those expecting a concise plot will be disappointed. Reportedly, the script was changed and changed and changed in a dizzying fashion before filming commenced. Some plot points and characters are introduced only to be unceremoniously dropped or forgotten. Little wonder why the story confused me to no end. Many characters have strange reaction shots as if they are reacting to different scenes. No matter though, the film is a good time despite the inconsistencies.

In a nutshell, a cute plowman Ralph (Barry Andrews) uncovers a hideously deformed skull with one gouging eye and strange fur. When he reports his finding to the local judge (Wymark), the skeptical man is disbelieving especially when the skull disappears before he lays eyes on it. The village and its inhabitants quickly succumb to a group of teenage devil-worshipers led by beautiful but fiendish Angel Blake (Linda Hayden) who begins to perform blood sacrifices to bring the skull back to life.

Director, Piers Haggard, who also did some scriptwriting along with Robert Wynne-Simmons, does a great job with adding the appropriate elements to create a satisfactory mood. The ancient setting of the early-eighteenth century England is always a juicy horror add-on since the unfamiliar time-period adds mystique. The cinematography is gorgeous with lavish fields and stone buildings. I could have done without the laughably bad wigs the male actors were forced to wear, though.

Hayden is the standout for me. A dead ringer for The Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick, only British, mixes deadly with beautiful in an underappreciated role. The actress was at that time a sex symbol appearing in other horror film treats such as Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Vampira (1974). As the teenage ringleader, her best scene is when she serves as a temptress to the local Reverend (Anthony Ainley). She seductively disrobes and confidently walks over to the intimidated man offering full-frontal nudity and the obvious daydreams of schoolboys everywhere.

Those not turned off by witch hunts, devil fur shavings, or characters sawing off their own limbs will find The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) a real treat. The film will please those classic horror fans expecting what the expected is in British horror which is a good thing. The demonic and religious trimmings mix well with a cast that is clearly classically trained with most appearing in similarly themed horror films. The story is weak and haphazard but the film is recommended to just enjoy the moment with.