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Seventies werewolf, 15 August 2016

"The Boy Who Cried Werewolf" follows a young boy, Richie, and his father, Robert, who retreat to the family's mountain cabin after Robert's separation from Richie's mother, Sandy. The night of their arrival, Robert is attacked by a werewolf in the woods, and begins exhibiting strange behavior and attracting attention from local law enforcement and a religious hippie cult that has settled into a forest clearing.

Originally paired with "Sssssss" by Universal as a double-bill, "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf" is a kitschy and spirited offering that is a far cry from classic werewolf films like "The Wolf Man," but manages to carve a marginal albeit unique identity of its own. The plot set-up that begins briskly in the opening scene is completely arbitrary, and the rest of the film seems to follow suit. Everything from the hokey rural policemen to the comedic hippie cult is utterly random, but it is these touches that really make the film weirdly memorable.

It's wildly atmospheric and at times feels like an ABC "Movie of the Week" circa 1973, though it boasts some mild violence and a handful of great sequences featuring the werewolf (the camper attack is fantastic). It's also beautifully-shot and extremely colorful—blue waterscapes and the lush green forests in which the film is set create gorgeous contrasts with the characters in the frame.Kerwin Mathews and Elaine Devry are solid leads as the two parents, and an array of mostly unknown actors fill out the rather large cast. The film does seem to start and stop its momentum as it shifts between the character locales, but the amalgamation of them in the final act is satisfying, though the ending is unexpectedly downbeat and actually tragic.

Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film in spite of the fact that I don't tend to gravitate toward werewolf stories. In some regard, "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf" is a family drama of sorts with a mere horror backdrop, and that also makes it unique. If one can get past some dated special effects (the werewolf makeup, however, is very good) and some wobbly supporting performances, this is an enjoyable and atmospheric seventies flick that wonderfully captures the era as well as its spirit of B-horror films. 7/10.

Plodding, pretty, and ghastly, 10 August 2016

"Nosferatu the Vampyre" (also known as "Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht" auf Deutsch), is a remake of the F.W. Murnau film, which follows Count Dracula and his "interest" in buying a castle near the Black Sea; Jonathan Harker, along with his wife, Lucy, become entangled with the Count, who has had a profound effect on Jonathan.

Often lauded as one of the better vampire films, Werner Herzog's retelling of the 1922 film is indisputably beautiful. The film opens with a chilling montage of various corpses in a catacomb, followed by a lingering shot of a bat against a dark turquoise sky, all set to a chilling and ethereal score. This is the kind of fashion in which the entire film is presented; long, moody shots of characters, and quiet emphasis on foggy fields and dark mountain passes. It is these precise moments that make Herzog's film stand out, and are also what make it so eerie. The score is haunting and accentuates the loneliness and solitude of these scenes, and the turnout is equally gorgeous and harrowing. As a mood piece, the film is phenomenal.

Some have complained about the film's slow nature, and I'll give them that—this is not a narrative-driven film, and it is slow as molasses at times. The viewer needs to understand what they are getting themselves into here, as it is a far cry from most contemporary vampire films. Klaus Kinski's performance as the meek and paltry Dracula is memorable for its evocation of total despair. Isabelle Adjani is decent, although I actually found her understated and somewhat eccentric performance to be a bit single-note; she's done far better in her career, but she's not bad by any means. Bruno Gaz is also a solid presence as the hero-turned-victim, Jonathan Harker.

Overall, "Nosferatu the Vampyre" is an aesthetic accomplishment that is completely visually absorbing. Herzog wrings atmosphere from every shot and musical cue, and the film is unforgettable for that. It is unusually slow-moving, so it's not something that can really be casually-viewed. In any event, it is a hazy and quietly unnerving film, and one of the best horror remakes to date. Memorable scene: the Count's initial intrusion into Lucy's room—check out the cinematography. 8/10.

The Tenant (1976)
Insidiously dreamy, 8 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Tenant" focuses on Trelkovsky, a young European who moves into a crumbling apartment building in Paris where the former tenant, an Egyptologist, committed suicide by leaping out of the window and through a pane of glass. Trelkovsky finds himself pestered by the other tenants, as well as both his landlord and the concierge (Melvyn Douglas; Shelley Winters), but most bothersome is the inexplicable occurrences in the building—items disappearing in a matter of seconds; his neighbors standing motionless in the windows of the communal bath house for hours on end; and moreover, the subtle and bizarre changes to his personality.

Decried by many critics upon its release but heralded as a cult film and final installment in Roman Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy," "The Tenant" is one of the weirder offerings from the auteur. One major difference is that Polanski stars and directs, which allows him a double-edge that the previous films of the trilogy ("Rosemary's Baby," "Repulsion") did not allow.

As with the former two films, "The Tenant" is a slow and cerebral offering that ramps up the nightmarish qualities almost to the point that they border on surrealism, though it never quite reaches that extreme. The almost-surrealism of the film is unexpectedly unnerving and, though not nearly as claustrophobic as its precedents, the film is considerably more bizarre. The dynamics of the characters are odd from the get-go: the disaffected landlord listens to Trelkovsky practically beg for the near-derelict apartment. The same day, Trelkovsky discovers the story of Simone, the former tenant who attempted suicide in the apartment. He goes to visit her in the hospital, where he meets her eccentric friend (Isabelle Adjani); Simone dies in front of them, though the extent to which this registers with them (particularly Trelkovsky) is vague. After they leave the hospital, the two go see a Bruce Lee movie at the cinema.

Many have remarked the Kafkaesque qualities of the film, and it's a valid observation. There is a distinct meeting of the arbitrary with the absurd, an element that seems to be embedded within "The Tenant," and the visual components that carry it along are striking and at times downright chilling. Polanski is memorable in the lead role, while Melvyn Douglas and Shelley Winters have unexpected turns as the disaffected owner/cold concierge of the apartment building. Adjani's character is wacky and more or less peripheral, but her scenes are great.

The film's conclusion is fittingly ambiguous and frankly expected given how deep Polanski whisks his audience down the rabbit hole with the film. It is perhaps as frustrating as it is thought-provoking, and is far more equivocal than "Repulsion" or "Rosemary's Baby," both of which left more perceivable breadcrumbs. More than anything, though, the visual qualities of the film are what I found to be most striking (and most terrifying). It is, on multiple occasions, the film equivalent of a portrait of a nightmare, and for that, it is a true gem. 9/10.

Darling (2015/II)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
What's behind door number one?, 5 August 2016

"Darling" follows an out-of-touch young woman who gets a job house sitting in a large New York mansion that is reputed to be haunted—that's about all I can say without ruining the rest of the film, as it really is that paper-thinly plotted.

Writer/director Mickey Keating seems to be a serious film student, as the movie is entirely based on Polanski's "Repulsion," and has shades of "The Shining" and "Diabolique" worn on its shoulder at all times. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing about it—the fact that it lacks its own identity.

The film is nicely shot and has some great closeups which are accentuated by the black-and-white cinematography, and the setting has an off-kilter, claustrophobic vibe that is more or less effective; I did, however, find the flashy jump-cuts and strobe effects to be overwrought. Lauren Ashley Carter plays the lead of the picture, and even looks like Catherine Deneuve; her performance is solid, while Brian Morvant plays a male counterpart who takes on a vital role in the proceedings. The film has a downbeat ending at its 76 minute running time, but it's a conclusion that seems apparent from the opening scene.

Overall, "Darling," though a technically well-made film, lacks bite because it seems too preoccupied with paying homage. A meatier film could have gotten away with this, but the narrative here is far too basic and skeletal to offset a cache of cross-references. The result is stylistically effective, but unfortunately rather dull in all other areas. 4/10.

Weird but ultimately middling effort, 4 August 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Dead & Buried" takes place in the small coastal community of Potter's Bluff, where mysterious locals seem to be hacking tourists and passersby to death—but instead of dying, they are coming back from the dead and joining the mob of their zombie-like murderers.

Giving the fairly prolific cast (James Farentino, Robert Englund, Jack Albertson) and other talent behind this film (including Dan O'Bannon, co-writer of "Alien"), I had fairly high expectations of this film. The opening scene entails a photographer who is lured onto an empty beach by a beautiful woman who asks him to photograph her; suddenly, a mob of ghoulish townspeople appear out of nowhere, and he meets a gruesome fate. It's a terrifying scene, exacerbated by the fact that it occurs in broad daylight on such an innocuous sunny beach.

"Dead & Buried" is, as many have said, an atmospheric film; it has the dreary coastal atmosphere down to a T, and it is also extremely well-shot. At times, it reminded me of 1973's "Messiah of Evil," which has a similar premise. It is also fairly well-acted from its lead cast. Where the film falters is in its pacing and plotting—there are bizarre editing choices and arrangements of scenes throughout that are frankly distracting. While some films use this kind of approach with purpose, such does not seem to be the case here; it feels as though the editors legitimately did not know what they were doing, and the result is that tension and suspense buildup are never really given an opportunity to grow.

As I mentioned, the acting is solid, with James Farentino playing a convincing cop, and Jack Albertson (who most will recognize as Charlie's grandpa in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory") playing the local coroner. The film has an intriguing twist ending that demands a serious suspension of disbelief, but it is nonetheless a legitimately weird plot twist that colors the film with light shades of science fiction.

Overall, "Dead & Buried" is a bit of a mishmash. While the film is atmospheric and has some legitimately scary scenes, it is also badly-edited and not nearly as suspenseful as it feels it should be. Its wilder psychotronic elements that come into play during the final act have earned it a cult following, and understandably so—but at the end of the day, it is a flawed film—one with some exceptional scenes and ideas, but no less flawed. It is worth watching for the general weirdness of its atmosphere and a handful of spooky moments, though it still feels like a gem that needed just a bit more polishing to really reach the next level. 6/10.

Heavy-handed plot, but rich in atmosphere, 2 August 2016

"The Red Queen Kills Seven Times" follows two sisters who are faced with apparent repercussions of a family curse after the death of their aristocrat grandfather. The legend has it that every hundred years, two sisters in the family bloodline will fight, resulting in the murder of one. After the prophecy comes true, a madwoman in a red cloak begins a killing spree in one of the sisters' lives, stalking the ancestral castle and mercilessly taking lives.

The second and last effort of Emilio Miraglia after the brilliant Gothic "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave," "The Red Queen Kills Seven Times" is a rather similar effort, but with slight modifications in both plot and tone. Where "Evelyn" treaded supernatural Gothic territory, "Red Queen" is a bit more of a heavy-handed giallo that is shamelessly over-plotted and also far more violent. Evoking the kind of giallos that Argento or Bava made in the 1970s, the film really takes its time working up elaborate murders and a faceless killer.

Tonally, it is slightly different from Miraglia's preceding film in that it was shot exclusively in Germany, and very much has a Bavarian aesthetic, featuring a German-European castle setting, rolling forests, and small mountain villages as backdrops. It is an atmospheric film, and in Miraglia's fashion, is oriented toward the Gothic.

As I mentioned, the film is a bit zany in terms of plot, and throws curveball after curveball without pause, so it is a film that demands its audience's attention in order to make sense of what is happening on screen. Barbara Bouchet and Marina Malfatti (returning from Miraglia's previous film) have the lead roles, and are both very good. The finale is fantastically elaborate and the final reveal is thematically quite dark; there is an especially memorable scene set in a flooding underground chamber that really deserves some respect.

Overall, "The Red Queen Kills Seven Times" is a solid effort, and does a fantastic job at juggling elements of the giallo with that of the Gothic thriller. It is a far less supernaturally-oriented film than Miraglia's "Evelyn," and it is also more extensively plotted. The unabashed twists and turns do become a bit redundant and exhausting along the way, but the finale is a nice payoff to an otherwise atmospheric thriller. The killer's red cloak (perhaps a foresight for "Don't Look Now"?) and menacing cackle are also not to be dismissed. 7/10.

Phenomenal Gothic chiller, 30 July 2016

"The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave" focuses on an English aristocrat who has dealt with the death of his unfaithful wife, Evelyn, by engaging in BDSM with local prostitutes at his remote estate before killing them. He soon after decides to marry a local ex-stripper, but their marriage is plagued by unusual events on the property, many of which are centered around the dilapidated tomb where Evelyn's body lay.

Oft noted for its unique blend of Italian giallo and Gothic horror, "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave" is one of the more under-appreciated films among its peers. Its mixture of two distinct genres does make it stand out from the pack, as it oscillates between seventies kitsch to Euro-Gothic throughout, though the Gothic overtones of the picture seem to be the ones that prevail, and that make it most memorable. Not only does it look the part, but it also is rife with themes and concepts unique to Gothic literature (psychological instability, family feuds, the supernatural).

Die-hard fans of giallos and your everyday horror-goer alike will find something to enjoy here, as there is a bit of everything across the board: a chilling atmosphere, fantastic twists and turns in a surprisingly elaborate plot, some fairly disturbing gore, and a couple of jump scares even. It's a beautifully-shot film, featuring some borderline-surrealist flashback sequences, and some frankly terrifying images of the ghostly Evelyn lurking in the crypt. The film is at times legitimately creepy, even today. The sets at times evoke those of a Hammer picture, and the film is also steeped in color that would make Argento or Bava proud.

Anthony Steffen plays the unstable Lord Cunningham quite well, toeing the line between despicable and horrendous, while Marina Malfatti plays his newlywed wife living in the shadow of Evelyn. Erika Blanc has a memorable role as a stripper-turned-almost-victim of Cunningham, and plays a vital role in the proceedings. It's remarkable how the film toys with its viewers emotions in regard to the characters, as it reveals more and more information as it shifts character perspectives. The only real issue I have with the film is that it ends too abruptly; it's as though the writers didn't know where to end it, and it ultimately feels like a lost opportunity.

Overall, "The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave" is an overlooked gem. It operates on both fronts of giallo and ghost story, and director Emilio Miraglia keeps a fine balance that is completely engrossing. The eerie setting combined with the clever plot twists and some unforgettable imagery make this a top- notch Gothic chiller. Bar the abrupt conclusion, "Evelyn" scares, thrills, and titillates in equal measure. 9/10.

The Pit (1981)
A low-budget triumph, somewhere between "Carrie" and "Gremlins", 26 July 2016

"The Pit" follows a young adolescent boy, Jamie, who is an outcast in his bucolic small town; his only friend is a teddy bear, he has an unusually focused sexual interest for his age, and his classmates pick on him incessantly. When his parents leave town for an extended business trip, he is left under the care of Sandy, a psychology graduate student who is babysitting to make money. Jamie bonds with her (and also becomes romantically obsessed), and lets her in on his hidden secret: an ominous pit in the woods that is home to a group of carnivorous creatures.

Walking the line somewhere between "Carrie" and "Gremlins," (the latter of which it predates), "The Pit" was an unexpected surprise to me. I went into it (no pun intended) with considerably low expectations, given that everything from the synopsis of the film to its poster art scream "really awful '80s movie," so I anticipated little, but found quite a lot to like here. Make no mistake—this film is pretty ridiculous—but it's also quite well-done and takes itself just seriously enough to not implode. If one can get past the silliness of flesh-eating troglodytes being fed local townspeople by a disturbed young boy, the film is insanely enjoyable.

While the special effects of the creatures are somewhat dated, and the entire premise utterly insane, "The Pit" no less manages to be engrossing largely due to its lead performances from Sammy Snyders and Jeannie Elias. The scenes between Jamie and Sandy are some of the most interesting (and disturbing) in the film, and set a sinister tone that permeates throughout; the quieter scenes at home are where the pair's acting really shines, and the character dynamics are most vividly realized.

The film also gets major points for managing to be suspenseful as the creatures are fed victim after victim—everyone Jamie has been scorned by. It's all headed somewhere grim, and the tension between Jamie and Sandy increases as his antics grow more and more twisted. It's also a very nicely-shot film with some beautiful compositions, and a fantastic, bucolic setting that is rich in atmosphere and lends it a late-'70s Americana feel. The conclusion to the film is unexpected and provides one final jab at the audience that steers from the expected formula.

Overall, "The Pit" is a hidden gem of a horror film, and is a mild triumph in its own right. It's the kind of film that takes itself seriously yet requires the complete reverse of its audience. If one can suspend their disbelief, there is a finely-crafted, atmospheric monster movie here. Granted, it is far from scary, but it is ridiculously entertaining, consistently sinister, and never once fails to keep one's attention. It's held up rather well for a film that ascribes itself to such a fantastical premise. 8/10.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
An objective opinion, 22 July 2016

"The Resurrected," based on Lovecraft's story "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," focuses on a Rhode Island P.I. who one day is contacted by the wife of a chemist. She expresses concern over her husband's erratic behavior, which has led to him isolating himself at his remote family estate, where he has been suspected by locals of grave robbing and performing disturbing experiments with human body parts. What they discover is all that and more.

Given that I am not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft, nor am I familiar with director Dan O'Bannon's work or other Lovecraft adaptations, I feel I have a fairly objective opinion to offer here. It seems that the user reviews largely reflect the reactions of (mostly) big Lovecraft fans. From my knowledge, "The Resurrected" essentially takes the premise of the Lovecraft story and situates it in the twentieth century, and more or less is consistent with the story's framework.

The film's beginning is rather dull, and I wondered what I was getting myself into; a drab, single-take shot of Jane Sibbett and John Terry in a very nineties-decor office gave the affect of a cheap television movie—and in all honesty, much of the film does in fact feel like that, from the unimaginative cinematography to the poor editing and sometimes awkward performances. That said, if you stick with the film, it does get progressively interesting and progressively weird.

The final thirty minutes are what really cemented my enjoyment of the film, where it becomes a sort of "Indiana Jones"-esque horror film, and the filmmakers seem to step up their game in terms of the camera-work and atmosphere. The special effects are in some respects dated, but in others look passable by today's standards. The acting, as I said, is a bit of a hodgepodge, with Chris Sarandon overacting at times; John Terry is only mildly likable as the lead detective, and Jane Sibbett ranges from bad to quite good. Robert Romanus has a memorable part as the P.I.'s chain-smoking sidekick. The final showdown is well-handled, though the voiceovers from Terry that conclude the film (and which are present throughout) leave a bit to be desired.

Overall, "The Resurrected" is a pretty decent horror flick. It definitely has the look and feel of a low-budget television movie at times, but it also manages to be atmospheric and quite a lot of fun once its wheels get turning. If the first twenty minutes of early-nineties aesthetic overload is too much, I'd urge you stick with it, as it really starts to demand one's attention about a quarter of the way through. It is not a flawless film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is commendably dark and compelling. 6/10.

Hellgate (1989)
Great surrealist concept, poorly executed, 19 July 2016

"Hellgate" begins with a narrative-within-a-narrative, as college students awaiting their friend's arrival at their vacation cabin relay the urban legend of a young woman who was kidnapped and murdered in the nearby ghost town of Hellgate. Little do they know, their friend is meanwhile encountering her on a deserted road en route, and the group become embroiled in the bizarre town's goings-on, where the dead are animated by a magical crystal.

Quite frankly one of the most disjointed and bizarre concepts I've encountered as a lifelong horror enthusiast, "Hellgate" is one for the history books that has been left out of them. Not because it's a good film—it's a very, very bad film—but it's also one of the most ridiculously fun (and ridiculously stupid) late-eighties horror offerings out there.

I knew within the first five minutes what I was getting myself into; the opening scene in the "fifties diner" appeared to be a reverse-anachronism, sporting so many historical inaccuracies and the heaviest late eighties/early nineties vibes you could possibly imagine, and things just went further down the rabbit hole from there on out. The sets in general are not too dissimilar from those you'd see in a high school play, and the ghost town itself looks like an unused studio backlot that was slapped together to appear as a (thoroughly unconvincing) western town. And yet, in spite of these limitations, the film manages to be somewhat atmospheric in its own bizarre way. Maybe it's the tackiness of the sets, or the way they're shot, but the apparent failed intent contributes to the overall weirdness of the film.

As for the special effects—well, gather round, folks, and check out the bat on the string, the exploding fishbowl, and the demonic turtle! The film is also littered with hilarious slow-motion shots during key moments of action. The acting and dialogue is by and large bad, and Ron Pallilo is essentially the only actor here who isn't an unknown (or whose film this wasn't his/her only credit). The script overall is disjointed, and the film appears as if it's trying to be multiple things at once: a creature feature, a slasher film, a ghost story, a sci-fi adventure—it's even sometimes humorous, though the one thing it never quite reaches is seriously "dramatic."

And, alas, despite all of the majorly problematic things I've listed about "Hellgate," I have to say that I found it as equally charming as it was absurd. I also feel that there is a good skeleton to the film—it is the execution of it that tears it to shreds. The film has a fantastically bizarre, creepy premise, and there are moments in the film where it nears a certain kind of surrealism that it seems to be striving for; the scene in which Pallilo encounters the ghostly Abigail Wolcott on the dark, rural road is a prime example. There are shades of David Lynch (and Cronenberg) here, and while the turnout is far from great, or even good, I felt the core of the film was actually rather intriguing.

Overall, "Hellgate" is quite obviously a bad film, but it's also supremely enjoyable for a niche audience of people who relish these sorts of bad horror films—and I count myself as one of those people. In spite of all of the film's technical flaws, I do believe there is a solid film here somewhere, but the filmmakers never found it. Even as a lost opportunity, "Hellgate" is a one-of-a- kind in its ability to leave you utterly dumbfounded. 6/10.

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