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Monday, March 23, 2020

The Uncanny - Peter Cushing Anthology

"The Uncanny" is an anthology from the 70s with a pretty unusual running theme.  All of the stories involve cats.  Three short horrors, all with household felines providing the scares.  Even the wraparound story centers around a conspiracy of cats, which Cushing's character hope to reveal in a a book, with help of a publisher, portrayed by Ray Milan.

Milan and Cushing are fun as ever, but there scenes do seem to have been shot in a bit of a rush.  I honestly wouldn't have been surprised to find that they were shot in a single night.

As in many of these anthologies, the experience is uneven, with the last story, starring Donald Pleasance ( a personal favorite of mine) in a rare, almost slapstick, comedic performance.

The very first story is probably the scariest with an entire army of kitties bent on revenge against a couple scheming to get money from a sick old woman.  The pace is fairly slow at times, but it's necessary to convey the passage of time.  The acting is solid enough and some of the shots of the cats make the little critters appear truly menacing.  Add a little claustrophobia and you've got a spooky, if not fast paced, little segment.

The second film is a Cinderella kind of tale about an orphaned girl who is mistreated by her cousin turned step sister and not particularly kind aunt.  Fortunately for her, the girl's mother has left her a book on witchcraft and a black cat as a familiar and guardian.  The special F/X here make use of optical and practical methods of the time to varying effect.  At some points it plays out very well and other times it isn't convincing at all.  Not a lot of gore, but a very gruesome concept or two conveyed by suggestion.

As mentioned, the final story, with Donald Pleasance, is a kind of dark comedy.  A love triangle and murder "mystery" with a cat playing "Columbo".  There are very few surprises in this one except for how goofy it's played.  The comedy is a necessity, because nobody could take the plot seriously. Some beautiful shots here and really fun moments, but no real scares.

The wrap around story is perhaps the most sinister and again has great some angles and shot compositions.  This segment is also saved by the screen presences of Cushing and Milan.

When it comes down to is, how scary this movie is comes down to whether or not you find 15 pound tabbies to be convincingly dangerous.  A significant amount of disbelief needs to be suspended here in varying amounts depending on the story.

The biggest distraction I had was constantly seeing cat behavior that made me think the poor things may have been mistreated on set.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

"Things" - Wow

"Things" is an 80's era, direct to video cassette horror movie that has a reputation for being the most inept film to ever come out of Canada.  I'm self-isolating with my wife during the Covid-19 crisis and gave this thing a watch.

Growing up, I was taught that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.  By all measures, that should make this the end of my review of this movie.

It has all of the flaws that something shot with no budget and an unexperienced is expected to have.  Poor color, soft focus shots, harsh, nonsensical editing, acting that is all over the map, constantly out of sync audio, annoying music (even for the 80s) and a laundry list of other things.  But, these are par for the course for a movie made in a time when even low end equipment was expensive and difficult to come by.  I know that this concept has to be hard to understand for people with 4K cameras in their pocket as part of their everyday lives, but it was a fact of life for indie filmmakers at one time.

In most cases, the cast and crew would get credit for doing the best job they could, but this movie also, even with added segments of a newscaster to fill in the gaps (and include adult film starlet Amber Lynn) doesn't make a whole lot of sense, which is a shame.  If you can eek the basics of the story, there was something there and a clever moment or two that could have been pretty cool, but most of it was never translated to the screen.

Many reviews mention that a lot of time is spent by two guys just looking around a house.  This is not an exaggeration.  There seems to be a lot of pointless cabinet and freezer opening.

But the music was the hardest part of the movie to sit through.  It wasn't just inappropriate, ineffective or boring.  It actively annoyed me.  I nearly didn't finish the movie because I could hardly stand to listen to parts of the soundtrack.

In the end,  however, the movie commits the worst crime a movie can.  It was just boring.  For about 80% of it nothing is happening.  This may have worked effectively as suspense building with better acting, lighting, music or dialogue, but alas, those were all missing.

About the only cool thing was the creature design.  Neat little fanged bugs that reminded me a bit of the Zanti Misfits with less human features.  There is also a pretty cool effect at the end, but it is surrounded by so much silly looped dialogue that it loses all of its possible edge and just becomes a joke at the end of the only  true action sequence in the movie.

If  you want to see an oddity that could have been so much more and has a few ideas that were probably more clever than the movie they fell into made them appear, seek this movie out, but be prepared for a challenging viewing.

Trailer is NSFW.  Topless scene in there and lots of screaming and gurgling.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Killer Sandwich - A Light Snack of Horror Comedy

"The Killer Sandwich" is a movie by Jake Perry and it opens with the statement: "Based on True Events".  You have to watch the movie to see just how odd this claim is.  This is what happens when you find a random sandwich on the roof of your garage and mix it with imagination of a horror movie fan.

This is much like one of my own micro shorts, "Hey, Doll...!" in that it seems to have been a quick shoot with minimal resources put towards it because the concept was simple and didn't need a feature film script and weeks of shooting to get the idea across.

Does that make it more funny or less funny?  You decide.

It's just over five minutes.  A great watch while you sip your morning coffee and contemplate the likelihood of a killer submarine sandwich with lettuce and tomato.

Remember, I am reviewing this as someone who brought you a  movie about a self-aware mop.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

"Harker" (2005) - A Classic Horror Tale...with "Puppets"

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen my call for short films, which are streaming, so I can review them.  This desire for movies under 15 minutes is because in January, like the rest of the winter experiencing populace, exercise inside.  I have gone through the holiday weight gain and annual "taking stock in myself".  This inevitably leads me to blog more often for awhile and realize that my pants don't fit quite right.  So, short films, under 20 minutes or so, are the perfect companion for my exercise.  They distract me from the constant pedaling, keep me from trying to type emails on my phone while biking in place and give me something to write about here.

The thing about doing from my Facebook page is that a lot of the suggestions I got were from friends and acquaintances, such as this one.  Let me explain how my "favoritism" works in these cases.  I know Jason and Tony from back in Florida.  They're good guys and I like their work, but I want to judge it fairly.  If I didn't enjoy it at all, such as the first film I watched for these short film reviews, I would just skip the review.  That may be why you only see reviews here that are at least somewhat positive.  I am of the mind that if you don't have anything nice to say,  you don't say anything at all.  Unlike writers who do it for outside publications (here I am, gang), I currently don't have assignments given to me by other people.  I choose what to watch and what to review on my own. So, if I don't enjoy a movie, I won't review it.  Consider this blog more of a suggestive list of things I have enjoyed, at least a little bit, throughout my massive amount of movie viewing.

With the disclaimers out of the way, let us take a look at "Harker"!

At just about 14 minutes "Harker" was the perfect length for my "not too long" workout and it kept me entertained the whole time.  In fact, after finding it on Amazon and getting it started, I wound up doing an extra 3 minutes of exercise.  Always a good sign of entertainment value that I lose track of time.

The first thing adults will need to overcome with the film is that the entire cast is comprised of puppets (or marionettes if your stickler for the terminology).   This does not mean it's a kid's film, however.  The plot line and imagery are very reminiscent of Nosferatu (if you're going to emulate a vampire, what better place to start?)  The puppet designs are appropriately stark with large shocking eyes and dark features.  Billy Horne did an excellent job creating characters that look like silent film era actors in the make-up of the time.  The somewhat expressionless faces (although there are some changes at key moments here and there) help add to the creepy stillness of the castle.

The other challenge some non-hardcore film fans may face is that this is a "silent movie".  The musical score by Tom Hoehn, however, carries the mood wonderfully and keeps the viewer engaged despite the lack of recorded dialogue.

Jayme LaRosa's sets are wonderful.  They are very reminiscent of the horror movies of old and complete the silent film era feel of the movie wonderfully.

There were one or two moments that made me giggle, but in a horror movie populated strictly by puppets you wouldn't expect to be able to take things seriously the entire time.  The overall visual style is wonderfully spooky.  It is reminiscent of Tim Burton's works, not because it is derivative of his movies, but because both show influences from the same dark roots of early silent horror films.

Finally, the creature, the beast, the main antagonist in this creepy short film is wonderfully designed.  The filmmakers even manage to get a bit of gore in, which was an unexpected, pleasant surprise.

Younger viewers may find the movie a bit frightening, but the nice thing about a short is that you can watch it yourself before making a decision for youngsters in your life.  It's a great initiation movie into the horror genre. 

I highly recommend this one if you can find it streaming and hardcore horror fans might even want to add it to their collection.  It's would great October viewing on a stormy night. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"Outpost Earth" - More Monsters from Brett Piper

"Outpost Earth" (2019) is an alien occupation movie with no shortage of monsters, laser blasts, giant robots or tremendous monstrosities.  The F/X are mostly old school and I'll skip right to the important bit, I LOVED it!

Cool poster, right?  And, amazingly enough, all of these elements are actually in the movie.  Not always the case with indie sci-fi.

At the opening of this film I was sure I wasn't going to like it.  It set up the story of Earth's fall with lots of composite F/X that used still photos mixed with CG (or were they models?) ships destroying famous landmarks across the globe.  It all looked very primitive, if not obviously done in a computer? Sort of had the same layering old Monty Python Flying Circus animations had.  Stacked 2D imagery with a very slight 3D effect.   I didn't realize at the time that this was setting the tone for F/X throughout the movie.  No scene would be too ambitious and it WOULD be accomplished through whatever means necessary.

Fortunately for me, this meant a lot of stop motion animation and practical F/X.  No CG aliens running around during this invasion.

And the animation was top notch.  There was some digital trickery to add blood and blur to movements, which I love seeing, because we were cheated out of this technique when it was new way back in the mid-90s.  While toying with the idea of stop motion dinosaurs for "Jurassic Park", the intent was to add blur to their movement using computer generated imagery.  "Outpost Earth" uses this technique a couple of times to varying effect.

The array of monsters is grand.  Man-sized aliens, "bugs", some kind of lizard-like hunting dog and a shape and size changing mutant all make appearances.

There's also no shortage of spaceships and even a couple of spaceship aerial battles.

Through the use of some great locations and creative costuming, the movie achieves an early "Planet of the Apes" like feel.  More the series than the movies, where the world is post-apocalyptic, but still recognizable as Earth. Maybe I just saw that likeness because the series recently showed up in syndication again.

There are a few rough patches, such as the science. The lead scientist is a genius in physics, but has a lot of theories about the biology of the aliens, etc.  I'm just not sure why his accomplishments in physics were constantly mentioned and an overall interest in science wasn't stressed more.  Or why his compatriot, whom he speaks to over a video link, isn't mentioned as a biologist and given more scenes theorizing on the aliens bodily functions.

There's also the comical quirk that alien technology is easier for humans to use when they're drunk.  Or is it just one human and does he just have a drinking problem?  Whatever, it's never really explained and the funny drunk guy routine wears out it's welcome well before it leaves.

Overall, the acting is solid with Erin Waterhouse really standing out as "Kay".  Her performance was believable and her character was strong.  She had good presence right from the beginning of the movie.

The second part of the opening, when we actually get to see human characters is another strong point.  No dialogue for a good couple of minutes, yet a lot goes on and we see enough to start piecing things together , which become major plot points later on.

 Did I mention giant, scorpion shaped robot tanks with laser cannon tails?  No?
Seriously, fans of the movies made by fans of Ray Harryhausen need to give this one a watch. It's the type of movie that fueled our imaginations as kids.
Watch the end for a nod to Might Joe Young.


And to witness my own stop motion "talents", dubious as they may, check out "All Wrapped Up"
All Wrapped Up


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"Pigster" aka "Feast of Fear"

I added "Pigster" to my watch list because I feel like there aren't enough monster pig movies out there in the world.  I'm still right, but during my 20 in 2020, maybe I'll rectify that, at least with a short.  But for now, "Pigster" adds nothing to the "monster pig" sub genre, although he is a monster and he looks like a pig.  His "piggish" looks aside, he fits in more to the Demonic Monsters arena.  And that's cool too.

In fact, I feel like the movie's original title, "Feast of Fear" more accurately prepares you for what you're in for when you sit down to watch this one.  Fear and a "Wishmaster" like hook that nobody gets something for nothing, play the biggest roles in this movie, although there are monsters-a-plenty to be seen.

The Pigster's make-up, especially around the eyes, is amazing.  His character is a bit of a throwback to the heavy metal, guitar playing movie demons I grew up with in the 80s. I'm wondering if teens still find this sort of thing cool.  I'm hoping they do.  I found it a bit hokey, but the nostalgia was enough to carry me through.  And Pigster isn't the only demon monster in this movie.  The Dealer (Robert Davi) and The Messenger ( Clint Howard ) are your basic human looking demons who sit at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The Dealer recruits the sould to feed fear to Pigster's protagonist, The Beast.  He is well dressed, charming and calm.  Davi plays him perfectly, as expected.  On the other side of the demons interacting with our world sits The Messenger.  He wears rags and is seen as a homeless person with a quirky personality who speaks in riddles.  Unfortunately, Howard is relegated pretty much to a cameo here, but he turns in his usual professional and off-center performance.

A cast of lost souls living in the hellish dimension with Pigster give the f/x team a lot of room to exercise some creativity and they come through.  For monster make-up fans and lovers of masks, this movie has a couple of set pieces that really deliver.

The Beast and Rat Girl round out the underworld cast and they're spectacular, although the Beast is underused.  In true monster movie fashion we get suggestions of what he looks like for  most of the movie and after some of the other make-up we're treated to in full view, his final reveal is a bit of a let down.

Unexpectedly good CG effects are utilized throughout most of the movie.  Some of the keying stands out as greenscreen (or blue or whatever color they used), but it's usually within the "fantastic" realm of the demon dimension and so the unreal feeling works for it.  Again, a bit of a 80s/early 90s vibe is elicited by these moments and made them work for me.

Acting, directing and score are solid all around.  A few moments aren't high-budget quality, but nothing that couldn't be overlooked with the overall quality film carrying you through to the next scene of gore, violence or beastly battle.  

There is a character who enigmatically explains what's going on.   I suspect this was for two reasons:
1. The exposition was needed to explain the demon's weaknesses.
2. The movie needed padding and adding a storyteller who interrupts every so often from a single lair set was an economic way to do it.

The movie clocks in at just over an hour, but one of my favorite things about streaming films is that they don't need to hit unrealistic 90 or 120 minute marks in order to be made.  Some stories are best told at a brisk pace and this is one of them.

If you're in the mood for some demonic bacon, "Pigster" will give you an hour of entertainment you won't soon forget.

Warning: The Trailer gets pretty bloody and I wouldn't call it SFW unless you work at Troma or someplace like that.


Usually this is where I post one of my videos along a similar line.  I've got nothing like this in my toolbox.  So, here's the newest "Jack vs Lanterns" trailer.


Monday, January 13, 2020

The Rift (1990) Marine Monsters

"The Rift" (1990) is an undersea action adventure movie chock full of mystery, espionage and monsters.  Lots of weird, great monsters.

Jack Scalia stars as submarine designer, Wick Hayes, who is called to help a crew bring down a sub based on his design to find out what happened to another sub lost in, you guess it, a deep sea rift.

With a cast featuring, Ray Wise, Ely Pouget and R. Lee Ermey, there's plenty of acting talent to go around.  Other characters are also played by people who clearly do not speak English as their first language.  They hand in solid, if not totally convincing performances.  Overall, the acting is far more than you'd expect from what is clearly a cash-in B-movie.  Undersea monsters were pretty big in 1989 and "The Riftt" came in just as the popularity was dying down.

The sub model and sets were very basic, but never looked "cheap" or slipshod.  The biggest complaint I'd have about the sub itself is that except for being yellow, it looked like any model submarine of the day.  It didn't seem "experimental."  Most of the underwater F/X were pretty standard for the late 80s,  The monsters on the other hand, would have been right at home in a 1960s or 70s B-movie.  I loved that about the film.  Puppets and other practical F/X are my preferred method of monster creation.

There was an array of undersea monstrosities as well.  Tentacles, fly looking things, various eels or serpents.  You don't get a terribly close look at many of them, but the F/X crew of "The Outer Limits" black and white TV series and "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" clearly influenced the people who worked on these monsters.

Elements of the plot will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of these types of movies.  Clumsy attempts at romantic triangles, the hero conflicting with authority, specialty guns that aren't all that special, things breaking on the experimental craft (or sea base, space base, etc), affectively trapping our characters and forcing them into ever more perilous situations are all here.  There is even a handheld "radar scanner" that keeps track of the personnel who are off ship.  All-in-all,  there's not a lot new here story-wise.  Again, however, I find formulaic movies somewhat comforting.  Sure, surprises are nice, but it's good occasionally to go into a movie knowing what you'll get.

"The Rift" delivers on the monsters, the action, very little gore (but a good deal of slime) and a threat to "the entire world!"

If you're itching for a monster movie with a water element, it's certainly worth the time.

Watch the trailer and decide for yourself.

Oh, apparently at one time the title was "Endless Descent".

And for my sea monster movie, watch what happens when a famous fisherman meets his nemesis.