****/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A- starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King directed by Stanley Kubrick
by Alex Jackson SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The Shining has perhaps dated the most of Stanley Kubrick's films. It's not as stylized as Dr. Strangelove or Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick pictures set in the "present" that nonetheless feel as foreign as those set in the future and distant past. Particularly with the earthy orange-pinks and piss-yellows dominating the Overlook Hotel's lobby in the opening sequence, not to mention the child star's shaggy head of hair, the film has deep roots in the late-Seventies to early-Eighties. However, I'm beginning to think that the aging process itself has provided the necessarily alienating "timeless" quality.
Virus */**** Image C+ Sound B Extras B starring Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Selan Karay, Robert O'Neil screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, J.M. Cunilles directed by Bruno Mattei
Rats - Notte di terrore *½ Image C- Sound B Extras B starring Richard Raymond, Janna Ryann, Alex McBride, Richard Cross screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, Hervé Piccini directed by Bruno Mattei
by Bryant Frazer It's quite possible there is no better-known director of truly terrible genre movies than the late Italian filmmaker Bruno Mattei. Though I've not seen any other Mattei films, I feel comfortable making that assessment based solely on the "blood-soaked double feature" assembled here by the B-movie mavens at Blue Underground. By any rational measure, Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of Terror are cheesy barrel-scrapings, budget-starved and blandly offensive horror counterfeits. But by the standards of Mattei's oeuvre--which also includes nunsploitation, Nazisploitation, women-in-prison flicks, and mondo-style "documentaries"--they are the cream that rises to the top of the milk. Unless you're willing to make a case for his nunsploitation flick The Other Hell, or maybe one of the early Nazi sexploitation pictures, these two films seem to form the cornerstone of Mattei's reputation, such as it is, among genre buffs.
**/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras B starring Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons, Wolfman Jack screenplay by Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe directed by Kevin Connor
by Bryant Frazer SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. If you give Motel Hell credit for anything, score it full marks for its infamous abattoir-set climax, in which an overalls-clad farmer wearing a grotesque pig mask and wielding a chainsaw battles the local sheriff--also wielding a chainsaw--over the body of a damsel in distress bound to a conveyer belt feeding an industrial meat slicer. Motel Hell wasn't particularly original, even in the annals of American B-movies of the era, and it's not especially scary or creepy--director Kevin Connor doesn't have much of a taste for horror. But he was certainly able to recognize a spectacle. During a long career, Connor directed Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Mickey Rooney in a fantasy called Arabian Adventure, shot on location in Japan another horror film starring Susan George, and even helmed a TV biopic of Elizabeth Taylor starring Sherilyn Fenn. It's the signature image of Farmer Vincent wearing a hog's head and brandishing a power saw, though, that has followed him through the decades.
**/**** Image B Sound B Extras A starring Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman screenplay by Peter Atkins directed by Tony Randel
by Walter Chaw Taking up right where the first film leaves off (and a familiarity with Clive Barker's Hellraiser is probably necessary for its enjoyment), Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which still lists Barker as an executive producer, boasts of a new director (Tony Randel) and a new screenwriter (Peter Atkins, working from an idea by Barker). Although it's pretty good as far as sequels go, owing a great deal of its creepiness to Christopher Young's superlative score (appropriated by Danny Elfman in Batman), Hellraiser II only occasionally captures the dank decomposition of Barker's literary and cinematic sensibility. That it's a disappointment is not a surprise; that it is not as much of a disappointment as one would have every right to expect is an even bigger surprise. While Hellraiser II is not the atmospheric brood-fest that the original is, it is still a horror film admirably reliant on a slate of unusual (and different) ideas.
Gatto nero */**** Image C+ Sound B starring Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, David Warbeck, Al Cliver screenplay by Lucio Fulci, Biagio Proietti, Sergio Salvati directed by Lucio Fulci
by Walter Chaw Ostensibly based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name, Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat is actually more akin to John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos (brought to film twice under the name Village of the Damned), with the titular feline taking the place of the telepathic tykes of Wyndham's apocalyptic fable. Like the children of Wyndham's tale, the evil cat is a physical by-product of the Freudian id, in this case a creature/familiar that, predictably, runs amuck. Fans of the "Godfather of Gore," Lucio Fulci, and the Italian horror genre (and specifically the giallo sub-genre of the same) will doubtless be disappointed in what amounts to be a staid amalgam of lurid Hammer Studios plots and settings. Patrick Magee's performance as the human counterpart to the evil pussycat constitutes the best reason to see an otherwise lifeless gothic horror film. A role Vincent Price or Christopher Plummer would have played once, Magee is appropriately fervent and pitched to campy perfection.
CONQUEST ½*/**** Image D+ Sound C starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti, Guido Alberti screenplay by Ettore Sanzo and Gianni de Chiara directed by Lucio Fulci
Luca il contrabbandiere **/**** Image B Sound B starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti, Guido Alberti screenplay by Ettore Sanzo and Gianni de Chiara directed by Lucio Fulci
by Walter Chaw There's something decidedly uncinematic about the films of Lucio Fulci (excepting Don't Torture a Duckling and Four of the Apocalypse, which actually sort of rock). If not for his fascination with gore effects and his propensity for casting irritating children in irritating children parts, it'd be hard to find anything to separate his work from the grindhouse ghetto of, say, Jess Franco. As it is, the stilted claims at auteurism (he's known as the master of eye violence, mainly for a few juicy bits from The Beyond and Zombie) do more, perhaps, to relegate his work to a sort of camp gulag: the Siberia of legitimate cinema, where adolescent tools congregate for midnight showings armed with irony and a crippling baggage of disdain and contempt. I liked "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and believed that I liked it because I was sophisticated; in time, you realize that you like it because you're an officious prick who sort of gets off on mocking movies. I think a lot of people would argue that this is the role of the film critic, but I'd offer that a critic--a good one--loves film so much that he or she is offended when a movie is terrible. There's no real joy in defiling altars, particularly when they're your own.
Witch Bitch **/**** Image B+ Sound B- Extras B+ starring William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Robert Lipton, Merritt Butrick screenplay by James Bartruff and Mitch Paradise directed by Michael Fischa
by Bryant Frazer The title sounds awkward in a not-ironic way and the 1987 copyright date suggests a cheap direct-to-video cheesefest. But director Michael Fischa is swinging for the B-movie fences from the very first shot--a Steadicam number that pans across its view of Sunset Boulevard, animated lightning bolts flashing over the Hollywood Hills, before craning down into the parking lot in front of the Starbody Health Spa. Dreamy, Tangerine Dream-esque synths well up on the soundtrack. Upon touchdown, the Steadicam glides forward towards the building as another lightning strike knocks out most of the figures on the whimsically-lettered neon sign up front, so that only eight letters remain lit: DEATH SPA.
***/**** Image B- Sound B+ Extras A- starring Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter, Christopher S. Nelson written by Lyn Freeman, Daniel Grodnik, Ben Nett, Steve Mathis directed by Greydon Clark
by Bill Chambers A slasher movie in spirit, Greydon Clark's Without Warning sure opens like one, in that some cannon fodder is swiftly dispatched to establish the bogeyman and the threat he represents. But instead of the typical frisky coeds or vacationing couple, the first victims are a father (Cameron Mitchell) and his adult son (Darby Hinton) on a hunting trip, and their dialogue is freighted with an impressive amount of history and subtext. The son is rudely awakened at the crack of dawn by his angry father; he proceeds to criticize the taste of the local water, which the father stubbornly hears as girlish griping rather than the anvil it actually is. Though they're archetypal opposites (the Great Santini and his sensitive offspring), the son does try to call a truce of sorts and is soundly, sadly rebuffed. The father's macho anti-intellectualism--the boy brought books on a hunting trip!--makes theirs an unbridgeable generation gap, and there's an unsettling moment where he trains his rifle on his son, sniper-style, before thinking the better of it. Then suddenly the father is attacked by flesh-eating disks that burrow into his skin, and what can he do except cry out for his kid, who soon suffers the same tragic fate.
**½/**** Image A Sound B Extras C starring James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo written and directed Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw Appearing in 1989 at the very end of the blockbuster decade and on the cusp of a digital revolution, Steven Soderbergh's micro-budgeted sex, lies, and videotape heralded a doomed renaissance in independent film that would find it melded, ultimately and inseparably, with mainstream concerns. It posits that people only tell the truth when they're captured on celluloid--that when the video camera starts running, the assumption of roles begins. By the end of the '90s, precisely a decade later with American Beauty, there's another character with a video camera, but in that one, everything has turned: the lies are on film, and the truth is digital. (See also: Michael Almereyda's endlessly rewarding Hamlet (2000) and the still-incomparable The Blair Witch Project (1999).)
*/**** Image B+ Sound B- Extras B+ starring John Friedrich, Rachel Ward, Adrian Zmed, Mark Metcalf screenplay by Jon George & Neill Hicks and Ronald Shusett directed by Andrew Davis
by Bryant Frazer Of all the lousy, Z-list horror films that flooded American multiplexes in the wake of the success of Friday the 13th, The Final Terror may have the most incongruously A-list IMDb profile page, which explains its failure to languish in well-deserved obscurity. It is exemplary of the 1980s horror boom as opportunistic folly--horror movies were being made by people who had no interest in making horror movies, simply because that's where the easy money was. Horror buffs know this, but still, how can any self-respecting 21st-century genre cultist resist the siren call of a little-known slasher starring Rachel Ward, Daryl Hannah, Mark Metcalf, Adrian Zmed, and Joe Pantoliano and directed by Andrew Davis?
Night Eyes **/**** Image B+ Sound B- Extras B+ starring Sam Groom, Sara Botsford, Lisa Langlois, Scatman Crothers screenplay by Charles Eglee, based on a screenplay by Lonon Smith and the novel The Rats by James Herbert directed by Robert Clouse
by Bryant Frazer There's really only one thing you need to know about Deadly Eyes, and I'm going to tell you right here in the lede. Deadly Eyes is a film in which hordes of giant killer rats terrorizing downtown Toronto are played by dachshunds wearing rat costumes. That's it. A monster movie is only as good as its monster, and this monster is wiener dogs in drag. If you don't find that off-putting--perhaps you raised your eyebrows, gasped in delight, and leaned in a little closer to your computer screen upon reading those words--then it's quite possible Deadly Eyes is the terrible horror movie you've been waiting for.
TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932) ***/**** Image B- Sound B+ starring Johnny Weissmuller, Neil Hamilton, C. Aubrey Smith, Maureen O'Sullivan adaptation by Cyril Hume; dialogue by Ivor Novello based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs directed by W.S. Van Dyke
by Bill Chambers As with most "origin" Tarzan films, Tarzan himself is an off-screen promise for the first third of Tarzan the Ape Man, though his famous yodel (which the studio maintains was artificially created) portends his appearance about ten minutes before he actually materializes. Likewise, as with most origin Tarzans, this one has become something of a viewing formality: The basics of Tarzan are pop-culture fundamentals passed down through the generations as if by osmosis, and so any film that aims to tell the story from scratch is bound to seem a little sluggish. It's remarkable, then, that Tarzan the Ape Man, in addition to exhibiting a surprising immunity to the ravages of time, is also mostly spared the contempt born of familiarity. Cutie-pie Maureen O'Sullivan essays the talkies' first Jane, who joins her father James's (C. Aubrey Smith) expedition in Africa and immediately casts a spell on dad's right-hand man, Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton). Once they begin their treacherous journey across the Mutia escarpment, beyond which allegedly lies an elephant graveyard that James and co. plan to raid for its ivory, Jane meets her true intended, the monosyllabic, acrobatic Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller). Though Tarzan more or less abducts Jane, their compatibility is such that she refutes her father's claim that Tarzan belongs to the jungle when she's reunited with the caravan. "Not now. He belongs to me," she pouts.
*½**** Image B- Sound B- Extras C starring Cecile Bagdadi, Joel Rice, Ralph Brown, DeAnna Robbins written and directed by Jimmy Huston
by Bryant Frazer Beware the toothless horror film--it's no fun being gummed to death. That's how you feel, more or less, by the climax of Final Exam, a low-budget Halloween knock-off crossed with a dopey frat-boy comedy. Written and directed by Jimmy Huston, who had made a series of southern-fried features for the drive-in circuit with North Carolina-based actor-producer Earl Owensby, Final Exam is a vintage programmer about a handful of students on a mostly-deserted college campus and a serial killer slicing his way through them, essentially at random.
****/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A+ starring Danny Aiello, Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn written and directed by Spike Lee
by Vincent Suarez SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. I was one of the few Caucasians who defied the tabloid pundits and ventured into a New York City theatre to see Do the Right Thing in the summer of 1989. Seated beside me were not rioters, but a tiny African-American child very much like the sidewalk artist appearing both in the film and on its posters. Her mother and I got a kick out of her enthusiastic dancing to the strains of the Public Enemy tune that drives the credit sequence, and she spent the next two hours bobbing in her seat, softly singing "fight the power" whenever Radio Raheem's box would blare its anthem.