COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

Review by LL Soares

First off, I want to say, “Welcome back, director Richard Stanley!” Not that he really went anywhere, but he hasn’t made a full-length feature film since 1992’s DUST DEVIL! Sure, there was that ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU movie in 1996, starring Marlon Brando, that Stanley just started directing when the studio replaced him with John Frankenheimer, but that doesn’t count (check out the whole story of this disaster of a movie in the documentary LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, 2014). It must have been a painful experience, because Stanley has only directed short films (including the “Mother of Toads” segment in 2011’s anthology film, THE THEATRE BIZARRE), videos for cool bands like Fields of Nephilim and Marillion, and documentaries including THE OTHERWORLD (2013) and THE WHITE DARKNESS (2002). But he hadn’t directed another feature until now.

I first became aware of Stanley in the 1990s with a little film called HARDWARE (1990), a cool sci-fi horror movie where a guy finds a weird helmet that turns out to be the head of a killer robot that suddenly gets reactivated… it’s a simple but effective plot and I remember liking it a lot. After that, he made the praised DUST DEVIL (1992), and looked to be an up-and-coming new director before he got sidetracked by the DR. MOREAU bullshit.

Second, this one’s for the Lovecraft fans. COLOR OUT OF SPACE is Stanley’s adaptation of the story by H.P. Lovecraft. Did you know there have been more than 200 (mostly short) films made based on Lovecraft? Many of you know about Guillermo Del Toro’s passion project – to adapt Lovecraft’s novella AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS – which still hasn’t come to fruition. And of course there are Stuart Gordon’s classic Lovecraft films, RE-ANIMATOR (1985) and the underrated FROM BEYOND (1986). COLOR OUT OF SPACE, based on Lovecraft’s story “Colour Out of Space,” (with the British spelling of “Colour”), has been filmed at least four times previously, including a short film from 2017 by Patrick Muller, a German production from 2010 directed by Huan Vu, and an Italian production from 2008, directed by Ivan Zuccon. The most famous previous version, however, was a film called DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965, also known as MONSTER OF TERROR), directed by Daniel Haller and starring the great Boris Karloff, along with Nick Adams.

A lot of people were excited to hear that, not only was Richard Stanley coming back, but he was making a Lovecraft film. To put a cherry on top of the sundae, it was announced that the star would be…Nicolas Cage.

Wow.

And so we come to the third important cog of this particular machine. Hey, I know Cage is a polarizing figure. He was a big star at one point, making blockbuster action movies like  THE ROCK (1996), CON AIR (1997) and FACE/OFF (1997), and of course, NATIONAL TREASURE (2004). He even made some great movies around that time, including ADAPTATION. (2002) and the underrated MATCHSTICK MEN (2003). Then his career seemed to implode, but not due to lack of work. He was in tons of movies, it just seemed like a lot of them were make-em-quick-for-the-money duds. But I never lost my faith in him. For every bad movie, he’d make three interesting ones. Before his action hero ascension, he made lots of good movies, including BIRDY (1984), RAISING ARIZONA (1987), David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART (1980), and LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995), the movie he won an Oscar for. And not all of the films he’s made since his career went all bizarre are awful, some of them are downright terrific like BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009), DRIVE ANGRY (2011), MOM AND DAD (2017) and 2018’s MANDY, which was so good, people started taking him a bit seriously again.

Sure, Cage has a reputation for playing bigger-than-life wackos, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a joy to watch, and when he gets a good script, he can turn in a memorable performance. I’m convinced he always could.

So what happens when you take these three elements – Richard Stanley, Lovecraft, and Nic Cage – and put them all together?

COLOR OUT OF SPACE!

The Gardner family has moved out to a farm in the middle of nowhere, intent on a new start after a traumatic event. Theresa Gardner (Joely Richardson of the series NIP/TUCK, 2003-2010, and VAMPIRE ACADEMY, 2014) is healing up after a battle with cancer. Her husband, Nathan (Nicolas Cage) is intent on farming, and raises alpacas. They fight a lot over the Wi-Fi, which is constantly going out in this isolated area, and Theresa needs the internet to communicate with her clients, who she advises financially. Teenage daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur, also in BIG EYES, 2014) performs Wiccan rituals in the woods to help her mother. Teenage son Benny (Brendan Meyer, THE GUEST, 2014, and THE OA, 2016-2019) hangs out a lot with an old hippie hermit named Ezra (Tommy Chong, also in UP IN SMOKE, 1978, and THAT ‘70s SHOW, 1999-2006) who lives nearby in a shack. Youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard, also in the TV series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, 2018) spends most of his time with the family dog.

A young hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight, also on the series AMERICAN GOTHIC, 2016, and ONCE UPON A TIME, in 2015) comes upon Lavinia during one of her rituals, and explains that he is there to inspect the water table, since the state is planning to build a dam nearby.

One night, a meteorite crashes to earth in the middle of their yard. It emits a strange color (a psychedelic pink hue) and begins to transform everything it comes into contact with. The meteor mutates the land and creatures around it. Strange flowers spring up around the family’s well, and the alpacas, as well as the Gardner family members themselves, begin to experience weird changes.

The changes begin slowly, first changing the groundwater, which Ward suggests they don’t drink, to eventually turning animals and people into misshapen mutants. There are some nice body horror moments in the movie, including two people who are fused into one, agonized mass. And everyone in the Gardner family begins to slide toward insanity.

Things just get weirder and weirder as we approach the denouement.

Stanley does a good job with the story (aside from directing, he co-wrote the screenplay with Scarlett Amaris). Especially impressive is the look and feel of the strange glowing “color” that the meteor emits. Since it’s impossible to show us an alien color that we’ve never seen before, the use of eerie, overwhelming pink light in the mutation scenes works quite well. The creepy soundtrack by Colin Stetson is also very effective, as is the work of cinematographer Steve Annis, who gives us a strong visual sense of what’s going on.

Richard Stanley and the themes of Lovecraft work very well together. Nicolas Cage alternates between giving an effective performance, and going over the top at times. It actually doesn’t affect the mood at all, since everything is going in the direction of complete madness anyway.

However, while I liked this movie, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. COLOR OUT OF SPACE ends up being less than the sum of its parts. It wasn’t the masterpiece I was hoping for. There are times when the movie feels off, or things don’t go in a particular direction as strongly as they could have. It’s like a wild animal that tries to break out of its cage – and makes a valient effort — but utlimately, doesn’t.

But it’s good enough so that, if you’re a fan of Richard Stanley, Lovecraft, or Nicolas Cage, or any combination thereof, then I suggest you check this one out. It’s not the best Lovecraft adaptation you’ll ever see, but it’s far from the worst, too. And it’s supposed to be the first film in a Lovecraft trilogy that Stanley is working on. Let’s hope it’s all uphill from here.

 

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

 

VEROTIKA (2019)

Note: Lately, my reviews have been showing up on a new site called FILM HORDE, but because nothing is normal these days, that site is on temporary hiatus, and I’m posting my reviews back here again — for now. Here’s the latest one.

VEROTIKA (2019)

Review by LL Soares

(Warning: Review contains spoilers!)

WTF!!

Every once in awhile you see a movie and wonder how did this get made? What was the director thinking when they made it? And that’s exactly what I thought when I saw Glenn Danzig’s new movie, VEROTIKA, which got a brief theatrical release a few months ago before it came out recently on DVD and Blu-ray from Cleopatra Entertainment. If you’re a fan of bad movies, then you’ll have to add this one to your list.

Look, I’m a fan of Danzig’s music, from his days in the Misfits and Samhain, up to his albums with the namesake band Danzig, and when I heard he was going to make a movie – and a horror movie at that – I was excited. I’d heard that the movie would be based on some of the stories from his Verotik line of adults-only comics, which meant there might be some incredible visuals – depending on the budget – because the one thing Verotik is best known for is the art, by artists like Liam Sharp, Simon Bisley, and Tim Vigil, and its generous use of nudity, especially well-endowed women. I guess, in picturing the movie before I saw it, I imagined a live-action version of HEAVY METAL (1981), with lots of nudity and gore.

Let’s say the movie fell a little short of my expectations.

VEROTIKA begins with a woman in chains (an image that is used several times throughout the film), who is confronted by Morella, a goth-looking woman with upside-down crosses under her eyes, who gouges out the chained woman’s eyes, while cracking a joke. Morella is also our hostess for these little adventures. She is played by adult film star Kayden Kross (also in SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VENGEANCE, 2015).

The first segment is called “The Albino Spider of Dajette.” In it, a girl named Dajette (Ashley Wisdom, REPRISAL, 2018, and the short film GOOD GUY WITH A GUN, 2020) is getting frisky with a guy, but she won’t remove her top. When he pulls it off, we see that her nipples are replaced with eyeballs (which is never explained and doesn’t add much to the plot – sadly, they also don’t move, so they never seem fully animated). The guy runs away, and Dajette cries. Her tears fall on an white spider that is crawling on some flowers, and the tears transform the spider into a weird-ass monster with eight arms (Scotch Hopkins, GANGSTER LAND, 2017, and BLOOD CRAFT, 2019), who comes to life in the real world whenever Dajette goes to sleep. Kind of an arachnid Freddy Krueger. Of course, when the humanized spider is around, he goes on a killing spree, killing prostitutes, just like Dajette, including some of her friends.

The police are trying to stop the serial killer, while Dajette alternates between being sad because no one loves her, and guilty over the horrors that happen she goes to sleep. The spider-man tries to encourage Dajette to sleep more, so he can come out and play. Eventually, she tricks him into a vulnerable situation, so he can be stopped.

Despite the fact that this one makes the most sense of the bunch, in a dream-logic kind of way, there’s still not a lot that redeems it. Sometimes the monster is free to roam around when Dajette sleeps, and other times he’s in the same room with her (with no explanation why). And what about those nipple eyes? What’s the story with those?

And everyone in this segment speaks in awful French accents. I guess it’s supposed to take place in Paris, but after awhile, with more and more characters trying to sound French, it just becomes laughable. The acting isn’t very good (I guess that’s an understatement, although Hopkins, as the spider, stands out just because his character is so odd), and the effects aren’t all that amazing either (the spider-man’s extra arms are clearly plastic and have no perceivable life of their own).

Our next segment is called “Change of Face,” and this is the one I have the most questions about, because very few of the plot elements make any sense. A stripper known as “Mystery Girl” (Rachel Alig, also in BIKINI SPRING BREAK, 2012, and OFFICER DOWN, 2013) dances around the stage with a hood, with her face hidden, because she has scars. When she’s not dancing, she’s off attacking random women and slicing off their faces with a big knife. Even though this doesn’t sound like it would kill the women, most of them die due to “shock and blood loss.” Why is Mystery Girl so obsessed with taking other women’s faces? At first I thought the idea was that she would put the faces on over her scars and look like someone new each time she stripped. This wouldn’t make much sense, but in the goofy logic of the movie, it would work. Instead, she just hangs them on the wall around her mirror. There are all these fleshy sheets tacked to the wall, for seemingly no reason. She just likes to collect them! What a waste. There’s no deeper purpose. If she’s going to be ugly, then those beautiful women she steals the faces of are going to be ugly, too!

Meanwhile, the police, led by Sgt. Anders (Sean Kanan, who amazingly has had recurring roles on the soap operas GENERAL HOSPITAL and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) try to solve the mystery of the face stealer.

This one was also weird because even though it takes place in a strip club, there’s not much nudity. Girls either wear string bikinis or black tape over their nipples, or fishnet tops. And nobody gets completely nude. What kind of strip club is this? Especially based on the nudity-abundant Verotik comics?

Aside from the fact that this story makes no sense, there are other reasons why it’s bad. The acting is atrocious (even more so than the Albino Spider story, even though no one has to pretend to be French in this one). Some of the line readings are just cringe-worthy, and no one acts like a real human being. The dialogue is sometimes hilarious. At the end, I just wasn’t sure what the point was.

By the time we get to the third segment, “Drukija, Contessa of Blood,” the bad writing takes a turn. Instead of giving us a plot that doesn’t make any sense, “Drukija” just dispenses with the plot altogether. It’s really just a retelling of the story of Elizabeth Bathory, the subject of the movie COUNTESS DRACULA (1971), and several other films. A noblewoman bathes in the blood of village virgins to stay young. Instead of Countess Bathory, we have Contessa Drukija (Alice Tate, of SNOWBOUND, 2017, and roles on the TV shows JEAN-CLAUDE VAN JOHNSON and THE KOMINKSY METHOD), who spends her time doing two things: going around the village to check out the virgins, and bathing in virgin blood after her young victims have their throats slit. That’s it. We never really see what she DOES with her youthful vigor. Maybe because she just doesn’t do much else. Her only real relationship is with Sheska (Natalia Borowsky, SO, YOU WANT TO BE A GANGSTER? 2018), who acquires the virgins for her and makes sure the Contessa is kept happy. There are hints that Sheska is in love with Drukija. And since Drukija is an aristocrat, there are no police coming for her, no punishment on its way.

At least this one has a lot of nudity (compared to “Change of Face”) and the acting is a little better (Tate and Borowsky stand out only because they aren’t completely awful). But it’s just the same thing over and over, with no plot development.

The interstitial scenes of Morella don’t add anything. She just presents each story, but doesn’t have one of her own, sadly.

The thing is, despite the fact that they adapted stories by Edward Lee (“Grub Girl”) and Nancy A. Collins (“Sunglasses at Night”), two horror mainstays, the Verotik comics line was known more for the art than the stories, and this movie just continues that theme. Written and directed by Danzig himself, there’s not a lot of drama, suspense, or real horror here. Throughout the film, I kept wondering why the stories didn’t go in more interesting directions, and yet they were so odd (and often pointless) that it added to the overall strangeness. This is the kind of movie where you’ll be amazed how bad it gets at times, but I have to admit I also laughed more than a few times. I really don’t think it was intended to be funny, but it’s such a misfire that there’s a strong sense of campiness, even though all of the actors (no matter how bad) take their roles seriously (if they’d been more self-aware and winked at the camera, it probably would have been worse). The production values also leave a lot to be desired.

One plus, however, is the soundtrack. Since Mr. Danzig is involved, this comes as no surprise. The soundtrack includes songs by Danzig, Ministry, and Switchblade Symphony, to name a few.

So I’ll admit, this is a bad movie, but I also found is strangely entertaining in its own way. I thought Glenn Danzig might be the next Rob Zombie (i.e., musician turned successful horror film director), but I guess he’s more of an Ed Wood Jr.

If you’re housebound with the coronavirus situation, this one might be a good double feature with Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003), or Wood’s ORGY OF THE DEAD (1965). Hell, make it a triple feature!

Word has it that Danzig is already making a follow-up movie, described as a “vampire spaghetti western” and it will actually have some recognizable actors in it. In a weird way, I’m looking forward to it to see if Danzig actually improves as a filmmaker, or if he gives us more “so bad it’s good” chills and thrills.

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

 

 

 

COME SEE “THE INVISIBLE MAN!”

Over at the new site FILM HORDE, you can check out my new review for Leigh Whannell’s reimagining for THE INVISIBLE MAN.

It’s an interesting take on a classic Universal monster, with the emphasis on his victim, played by the great Elisabeth Moss (MAD MEN, THE HANDMAID’S TALE).

Come see what I thought of it and get a brief history of Universal’s “Dark Universe” while you’re at it.

 

FILM HORDE IS HERE!

Instead of posting a new movie review on my blog this week, I’m going to recommend you check you a new movie review site called FILM HORDE. It was launched by my friend and fellow writer (and movie fanatic) Nick Cato, and will feature many of the writers who used to write reviews/columns for my old site CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.

My new monthly column there will be called “Burning Fingers Wrapped in Gold,” and the first installment is up now – a review of the 1984 Australian monster movie, RAZORBACK. My article was the first one to be posted on the site, and I’m honored.

I’ll still be posting reviews here weekly (or semi-weekly), as well as writing the monthly column for FILM HORDE.

My friend Jenny Orosel also has a new column up on the site as well, about the early films of director Don Coscarelli, that you should check out as well.

Thank you.

 

 

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2019

MY TOP 10 FILMS OF 2019

(As compiled by LL Soares)

This was one of the easiest Top 10 lists I’ve had to write to years. 2019 was a great year for cinema.

NUMBER 10 – TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID – Made in 2017, but not distributed in the U.S. until this year (it’s currently available on the streaming service SHUDDER), my number 10 movie of 2019 is the Mexican film TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID. Directed and written by Issa Lopez, it features homeless kids being pursued for a stolen cellphone, murderous cartel members, and three wishes. An interesting mix of realistic and supernatural elements, it’s worth checking out.

NUMBER 9 – US – not everything makes sense in Jordon Peele’s follow-up to GET OUT, but US is an atmospheric, creepy film about the day everyone’s doppleganger shows up to play. Starring Lupita Nyong’o (who turns in two amazing performances), Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker. Once it starts explaining why all this is happening, not all the pieces fit perfectly, but I really didn’t care or overthink it, because I was having such a great time. A strong, effective horror film with powerful imagery that will stick with you.

NUMBER 8 – DOCTOR SLEEP. This completely underrated sequel to THE SHINING, performs an impressive high-wire act, acting as both a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic film (that, notoriously, Stephen King has never liked), as well as an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. With Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance, the impressive Kyliegh Curran as a very powerful little girl, and the terrific Rebecca Ferguson as villainous Rose the Hat, leading a group of rogue “shiners,” who kill without remorse. Directed and written for the screen by Mike Flanagan (GERALD’S GAME) with suspense throughout, compelling characters, and a big showdown at the Overlook Hotel, which is just the way we remember it.

NUMBER 7 –  JOKER – Todd Phillips, who previously gave us comedies like OLD SCHOOL and THE HANGOVER gets serious with this twisted origin tale, the  bleakest comic book blockbuster of all time. With Joaquin Phoenix distorting himself mentally and physically as a man named Arthur Fleck who is tormented by just about everyone, until the day comes when he decides he wants to do the tormenting for a change. Phoenix is just amazing here, with strong supporting performances by Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy as Arthur’s mom.

NUMBER 6 – THE NIGHTINGALE – Jennifer Kent gives us her follow-up to the much-praised THE BABADOOK (2014), this time transporting us to 1800s Tasmania when the British were in charge, and everyone else was either imprisoned (it was all originally a penal colony, afterall) or treated like slaves. With Aisling Franciosi spellbinding as Clare, a woman who loses everything and is determined to get revenge; Sam Claflin as a sadistic officer named Hawkins; Baykali Ganambarr as Billy, an aborigine guide who reluctantly agrees to help Clare, and eventually becomes her ally; and the great Damon Herriman as Ruse, the vilest of Hawkins’ men. Gritty, violent, and heartbreaking, I thought this one was a big step up from BABADOOK.

NUMBER 5 – PARASITE – Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece is a tale about a family of unemployed grifters (the Kims) in Korea who find a way to inbed themselves as servants and tutors in the home of a rich family (the Parks), whose lives they take charge of in the process. They think they’ve won, until some unexpected monkey wrenches mess everything up, culiminating in a violent and shocking conclusion. A movie filled with twists and turns that I don’t want to reveal here.

NUMBER 4 – THE IRISHMAN – Martin Scorsese’s best movie in years is the epic tale of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a trucker who becomes a mob enforcer, and how he becomes the right hand man of mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and the confidante of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). A great script, and a cast that makes it even better, make this one movie you’ll remember long after its over.

NUMBER 3 – UNDER THE SILVER LAKE – After David Robert Mitchell wowed us with IT FOLLOWS (2014), he followed it up with this movie, which pretty much got panned at Cannes in 2018 and was shelved for awhile, before it finally came to Netflix this summer. Slammed for having too much going on and being “overindulgent” by some critics, this turned out to be exactly the kind of movie I love. Andrew Garfield plays a young guy without a purpose in his life, who gets one when a girl who moves into his apartment complex, named Sarah (Riley Keough) disappears. He takes a journey into the underbelly of the community of Silver Lake in California, meeting all kinds of strange characters along the way, including a weird comic book artist, a reclusive songwriter, and a bird woman. I totally enjoyed this one.

NUMBER 2 – MIDSOMMAR – the best horror movie of 2019 is written and directed by Ari Aster, who gave us last year’s breakout hit, HEREDITARY. This one is totally different in every way, bringing us in to the bright light of the sun as we follow Dani (Florence Pugh), her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and their friends as they journey to Sweden to take part in a pagan festival. Let’s just say things take a turn for the awful. I loved every minute of it.

 NUMBER 1 – ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD – Quentin Tarantino gives us one of the best films of his career with this mix of drama, humor, and revisionist history featuring TV cowboy Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio in maybe his best performance ever), who sees his career fading fast and who wants to hit the big time; his stuntman and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), all zen and calm strength; and Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, the actress wife of Roman Polanski who was killed by the Manson family in 1969. But don’t expect it all to play out like it’s supposed to, because this movie has a mind all its own. Pitt is always good, but I think DiCaprio brings a new level of vulnerability here, and Robbie lights up the screen whenever she’s on it. With a cast of familiar faces including Margaret Qually as a Manson girl named Pussycat, Mike Moh as Bruce Lee, Timothy Olyphant as James Stacy, Al Pacino as Rick’s new agent, Marvin Schwarz, and Julia Butters as a child actress wise beyond her years. An instant classic.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

MARRIAGE STORY – Noah Baumbach’s gripping, exhausting tale of a theater director (Adam Driver) and an actress who wants to return to Hollywood (Scarlett Johansson) who seem like best friends and good people, until they decide to get divorced and then they, and everything around them, turns ugly.  With an amazing supporting turn by Laura Dern as Johansson’s lawyer, and great performances by Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, and Julie Haggerty. And it’s always great to see Wallace Shawn, even in a small role!

EL CAMINO: A BREAKING BAD STORY – I guess this one counts more as a TV-movie, but it was shown on Netflix and was the length of a feature film, so I’m including it here. A sequel to the amazing series BREAKING BAD, this movie is about what happens to Jesse Pinkman after the TV show ended. When we last saw him, he was escaping from a white supremacist compound, where he was being kept as a prisoner, driving the El Camino of the title. In this strong, suspenseful movie, we see both where he’s going, and where he’s been (flashbacks to his captvitiy that we never saw before). Written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan. This was like a hammer, and as satisfying (if not more so) as most theatrical releases this year.

READY OR NOT – The great Samara Weaving (who really seems to be a rising star this year), plays a new bride named Grace, who just got married to the heir to a board game fortune. She gets to know her new family during a night-long bout of hide and seek, where if she gets found, she will be murdered violently. Except, the eccentric Domas family wasn’t expected such a smart and badass quarry. This movie was a real surprise – it exceeded my expectations and was a ton of fun along the way. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.

CLIMAX A modern dance troupe finds out the punch is spiked with acid, and everyone tumbles into the mother of all bad trips, as Gaspar Noe gives his latest journey into hell. Normally, a new Noe movie would probably make my Top 10. This isn’t his best (towards the end, it becomes a bit tiresome), but it has some memorable moments.

JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM – The third entry in this non-stop, violent action movie series is nothing short of pure gun violence satisfaction. Keanu Reeves has found his perfect role.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

If you liked this article, also check out:

Dan Keohane’s Favorite Movies of 2019

William Carl’s Favorite Movies of 2019

Nick Cato’s Best Films of 2019

Matt Schwartz’s Favorite Movies of 2019

And Philip Perron’s Top 10 Films of 2019 — coming eventually.

TERRIFIER (2016)

Review by LL Soares

I was pleasantly surprised by this effective little horror film. I’m sure it cost almost nothing to make, and the story isn’t all that original (killer clown goes on the rampage). But, man, that clown makeup is creepy as hell! Filmmaker Damien Leone has served up a treat in the character of Art the Clown!

Based on a 2011 short of the same name by director Leone, TERRIFIER takes place over the course of one blood-drenched Halloween night in the big city.

It starts with a creepy interview on TV between a morning talk show host and a poor woman who was a victim of Art’s LAST Halloween rampage (he’s done this before!), who had her face torn off, and who looks suitably disturbing. Then it moves to the main story.

It’s late, and Tara Heyes (Jenna Kanell, also in “THE BYE BYE MAN,” 2017) and her friend Dawn (Catherine Corcoran, “AMITYVILLE: VANISHING POINT,” 2016) are going home after a drunken party. The thing is, Dawn’s too intoxicated to drive, so they argue about who’s going to get behind the wheel. During the argument, Tara sees a weird-looking clown (David Howard Thornton, also in the TV series, “NIGHTWING: ESCALATION,” 2016-2017) staring at them. When she points it out to Dawn, he’s gone.

Eventually, the two of them end up in a pizzeria (Dawn is hungry), and the clown comes in and sits down a few tables from them, just in Tara’s line of vision. He doesn’t speak, but there’s something spooky and threatening about him. Tara’s scared, but Dawn shows she isn’t by going over and taking a selfie with the clown. The clown goes to the bathroom and one point and is chased out of the restaurant when he does something disgusting (what, we don’t see).

When the girls feel sober enough to leave, Dawn sees she has a flat tire and so Tara has to call her sister, Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi, “DEMON HOLE,” 2017), who’s up studying for law school, to come pick them up. While they’re waiting, Tara has to go to the bathroom, and they end up going to a nearby apartment building, where an exterminator (Matt McAllister) is on the front stoop, taking a smoke break. They ask if they can use the bathroom, and he says he could get in trouble, but he finally relents. The exterminator, Mike, leads her to a filthy toilet stall in the back of the building and then he goes about spraying for rats with headphones on (so he can’t hear anything that’s going to happen).

Tara is repulsed by the condition of the toilet, but what’s a girl to do? Afterwards, she wanders around, lost and looking for Mike, and finds herself in a back alley behind the building, where she sees a weird, crazy cat lady (Pooya Moheseni, “GHOST SOURCE ZERO,” 2017) who lives on the grounds. It’s not long afterwards that good old Art the Clown shows up again (he doesn’t speak, so I’m not sure how we know his name), and starts killing everyone he comes into contact with.

He chases poor Tara around the property, and Art goes about proving why the movie is called TERRIFIER. For a movie that is supposed to take place on Halloween, there’s hardly anyone around on the streets (sure, it’s the city, but still), and this eerie stillness adds to the atmosphere (even if it doesn’t make total sense).

There’s not much more to it. Just an evil clown going on a killing spree. A half dozen brutal murders. And of course, there’s the last scene in a morgue, that sets thing up for a sequel. Of course! And frankly, that doesn’t sound like a lot to recommend it, even if there are some nice gore scenes, including one where Arty has someone tied upside down and cuts them in half with a hacksaw.

But there’s something really effective about Art’s black and white clown makeup, and the fact that he doesn’t speak makes him even creepier, as he goes about his (bloody) business. Art’s one of the best-looking killer clowns I’ve seen on film, and for that reason alone I enjoyed this movie better than I should have.

Art the Clown also appeared in Leone’s anthology horror film ALL HALLOW’S EVE (2013), where he was played by Mike Giannelli, and which I need to check out. And there’s a sequel – TERRIFIER 2 – again played by David Howard Thornton –that’s currently in the works (that has Felissa Rose from the classic SLEEPAWAY CAMP, 1983, in the cast, too!).

Director/writer Damien Leone is also a special effects guy and did them for TERRIFIER. Aside from the Art the Clown-related flicks I mentioned, he also directed FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY (2015), which I also want to check out, for that title alone!

I really didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. It’s well-paced, and it works. And I want more Art the Clown. So, I give this one 3 knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives TERRIFIER ~ 3 1/2 KNIVES!

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DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

Review by LL Soares

An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, which was itself a sequel to his early novel, THE SHININGas well as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s equally iconic film version of THE SHINING (1980)there’s an awful lot about DOCTOR SLEEP that could go wrong. Especially since King is famously unhappy with the Kubrick film, and the director, Mike Flanagan (who also adapted King’s GERALD’S GAME in 2017), consulted with King on this project. Despite that, Flanagan revisits some of the unforgettable imagery from that same Kubrick film.

So does DOCTOR SLEEP work, despite trying to stay true to more than one source material?

I thought it was pretty successful overall.

Director Flanagan, who also directed the films OCULUS (2013), HUSH (2016), and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016), as well as the Netflix series THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, also wrote the screenplay for this one.

In this film, Danny Torrance (played by Danny Lloyd in Kubrick’s film and Roger Dale Floyd in flashbacks as a boy here), is grown up (and now played by Ewan McGregor, of “TRAINSPOTTING,” 1996, and young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the STAR WARS series of films), and pretty much a lost soul. He drinks too much, he gets in fights, he wanders from town to town. He still has the mental powers he had as a kid (including telepathy, and more interesting tricks that are revealed later), except he is trying to run away from them, trying to run away from himself, and finding that he can’t, no matter how much he moves around. He finally stops for awhile in a small town where he befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis, “ONCE WERE WARRIORS,” 1994, and in the upcoming AVATAR sequels), who offers him a second chance to sober up and start fresh.

He’s still haunted by the trauma of his childhood, where, during a winter at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado, his father (played by Jack Nicholson in the original film) went insane and tried to kill him and his mother, Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall originally).  He’s obviously been unable to shake that nightmare and it still has a strong hold on him. He gets visits from the ghosts of the Overlook, including the Old Woman in the Bath (Billie Gibson). He also still gets visits from Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers in Kubrick’s film and played by Carl Lumbly here), his mentor and the man who told him originally that he had “the shining” as a boy. Hallorann is dead, but still lingering, and pops up from time to time to offer advice.

Dan’s been able to stay beneath the radar of other people like himself, but there’s a girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran, who was only in one movie before this, 2017’s I CAN I WILL I DID) who’s a good person like he is, and is much more powerful, who is able to contact Danny (now going by Dan) and communicate with him. This becomes especially important when Abra “witnesses” a murder in an abandoned field (part of some long empty fuel-producing compound). The victim is another kid like her (though not as powerful). The killers are another thing entirely.

They’re called the Knot and they’re led by Rose the Hat (Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, previously in “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION,” 2015, and “THE GREATEST SHOWMAN,” 2017), an Irish lass who wears (you guessed it) a (top) hat. She and her band of murderers are always on the lookout for kids who “shine” because they eat them, literally. Well, their souls. It keeps them near-immortal, and they’re a merciless bunch. The thing is, while Abra is able to “see” them with her mind, Rose eventually can see her as well, and tracks her down, intent on either making her one of the Knot, or feasting on her soul. Most probably the latter.

As I said, Abra reaches out to Dan, and together they conspire to defeat Rose and her minions. But it won’t be easy. She’s a formidable one, as is her second-in-command named Crow Daddy (the excellent Zahn McClarnon, also in “BONE TOMAHAWK,” 2015, and the TV shows FARGO, MIDNIGHT, TEXAS, and WESTWORLD), who’s as vicious as Rose is, and Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind, also in Gaspar Noe’s “ENTER THE VOID,” 2009, and the TV series REVENGE, 2011-2015) , the latest addition to the Knot, who is a “pusher” (can get people to do what she wants by telling them what to do). The rest of the Knot members have named like Barry the Chunk (Robert Longstreet, “SORRY TO BOTHER YOU,” and “AQUAMAN,” both 2018), Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken, The Giant from TWIN PEAKS, 1990-1991, and Lurch in the 90s ADDAMS FAMILY movies), and Silent Sarey (Catherine Parker, “ABSENTIA,” 2011).

A game of cat and mouse proceeds, and innocent people are sucked into the struggle (some fatally), culminating in a final showdown at the now boarded-up Overlook Hotel, and it’s there where the Kubrick imagery explodes, with ghosts of Dan’s father (now played by actor Henry Thomas, using the name Thomas Downing in the credits), that scary old woman in room 237 (now played by Sallye Hooks), and even the creepy twin girls (played in Kubrick’s film by Lisa and Louise Burns, and now played by Sadie and Kk Heim). Those bright red carpets and scary hallways are back in a big way (as is the elevator that bleeds!), as Dan faces his personal demons head-on for once and for all.

The leads here are really good. I like McGregor here a lot, Curran is a terrific kid actor who is the backbone of the movie and has a bright future ahead of her, and Ferguson is really memorable as the villainous Rose. The script and direction are also top-notch.

I didn’t think the marketing push for this one was very good (it could have been more aggressively marketed, I saw very few commercials for it), almost as if the studio didn’t believe in it, which is unfortunate, because it’s a strong film, much better than IT: CHAPTER TWO from earlier this year, also based on King. I thought just about everything about DOCTOR SLEEP worked, and I liked the new characters as much, or more, than the returning ones.

A solid addition to the cinema canon of Stephen King, and if you’re a fan you should check it out. I give DOCTOR SLEEP ~ 3 ½ knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives DOCTOR SLEEP ~ 3 1/2 KNIVES

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DEATH BY INVITATION (1971)

Review by LL Soares

A low-budget tale of revenge, 1971’s DEATH BY INVITATION (the title tells you nothing about the film, by the way), is yet another in a long history of films about witches killed in the past who come back to take their vengeance on the descendants of their murderers. Despite the cheap look of the film, there are some good ingredients here that could have amounted to a much better movie. Sadly, director/writer Ken Friedman just isn’t able to make everything mesh into a satisfying whole.

We begin in a town that could be Salem in the time of the witch trials. A beautiful woman (Shelby Leverington) is being tried as a witch by a group of town elders and is dragged through the town square to the local church, where she will receive her ultimate (and fatal) sentencing.

Jump ahead to present-day 1971, and the witch from the previous scene is now named Lise, and is friends with a family headed by Peter Vroot (Aaron Phillips), who we recognize as one of the villagers who bore witness against Lise in her former life (that man was clearly Peter’s ancestor). The Vroot family is also made up of Peter’s wife Naomi (Sarnell Ogus), sons Roger (Denver John Collins) and Michael (Bruce Brentlinger), and daughters Coral, Sara, and Elly (Rhonda Russell, Sylvia Pressler, and Lesley Knight, respectively). There’s also Jake (Norman Paige), who is Coral’s fiancée.

Somehow, Lise has become close to the Vroots; she appears to be close friends with Naomi, and is treated as one of the family. While she doesn’t live in the house with them, she’s often there. It seems like they’ve known each other for a while, but all of a sudden, Lise decides to start taking her revenge on the descendants of her enemies, beginning with a twenty-something Roger, who sneaks away to go to her apartment with sex on his mind. Instead, Lise tells him a story about an ancient tribe where the women were the hunters and end up cannibalizing the men. As her story ends, she gets Roger to kneel before her, and then he is killed (offscreen). We see blood streaming down his back, but don’t really know what’s happening to him.

When he’s been missing for a couple of days, the police are called in. These include a Detective (Tom Mahoney), who has a cynical attitude and who complains about paperwork, and his “sidekick,” a uniformed Police Officer (Jay Lanno). But they aren’t much help, and don’t seem competent enough to solve the disappearance.

Meanwhile, more members of the family are killed off. The one who comes closest to the truth is Jake, who hits on Lise a few times until she finally takes him back to her place. There, she tells him a story about an ancient tribe of cannibal women (the same story she told Roger). But Jake isn’t as easy prey as poor Roger.

Despite the low-budget shenanigans, there are a few things to recommend the film. Shelby Leverington is a striking lead as Lise, and it’s amazing she didn’t become a bigger star, at least in horror films. While she did have a long career, she mostly played one-shot characters in lots of TV shows, like KOJACK (1977), LOU GRANT (1982), MATLOCK (in 1988), and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1992), and a few feature films. She also had a recurring role in HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN (1984-1988). But she has so much potential here, it’s clear that, with the right opportunities, she could have had a more successful career. Her Lise almost seems like a precursor to Samantha Robinson as THE LOVE WITCH (2016). Aaron Phillips (as Peter Vroot) looked familiar to me, but it turns out this was his only movie role. Norman Parker (billed here as Norman Paige) is good as Jake, and also had roles in DARK SHADOWS (1969-1970), and the movies THE CLAIRVOYANT (1982), and BULWORTH (1998), as well as recurring roles on shows like THE EDGE OF NIGHT (1982-1983), AS THE WORLD TURNS (in 1986), and the sitcom FAMILY TIES (1985-1987). For several cast members this movie is their only credit (or one of very few).

One odd note is that Jake is supposedly engaged to marry Coral Vroot, and yet, they barely interact together. In fact, they’re rarely in the same room together. There are family scenes where Jake is there, but Coral isn’t present! This includes a group scene outside, and scenes where the family is gathered around the dinner table. Why would the Vroots’ future son-in-law be constantly there, while the Vroots’ actual daughter, Coral, is rarely seen? It’s almost like they completely forgot about Coral in various scenes, even though she’s the sole reason why Jake is constantly at the family’s house. In one scene where Coral and Jake actually do talk, she goes to bed early, leaving Jake alone with Lise (not a smart move).

A major flaw about the film is that they clearly didn’t have the expertise of someone who knew how to do gore effects, so instead of actually showing how people die, it’s implied and we see flowing blood. It could have been nice to actually KNOW how each person is murdered, but we have to guess, which can make things confusing, since it’s not always clear cut. One body found in a plastic bag seems to have unlimited blood (we assume the person was killed days ago, but when they’re found, they’re still bleeding!).

Filmmaker Ken Friedman only has three credits as a director: this film, MADE IN THE U.S.A. (1987), and one episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, when the host was Malcolm McDowell (and the musical guest was Captain Beefheart!!). Friedman did go on to write other screenplays, though, including ones for WHITE LINE FEVER (1975), 11th VICTIM (1979), and the Mickey Rourke crime flick, JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989).

DEATH BY INVITATION could have been a good ‘un, but it’s just too inept. In the hands of a better director (and with a decent gore effects person), it could have been much more memorable. But as it is, it’s mostly forgotten.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017)

Streaming Review by LL Soares

Streaming over on Amazon Prime, you can check out the 10-part miniseries TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL (2017), a Japanese show that got very little promotion when Amazon acquired it. There were actually two versions of this story—the miniseries available on Prime, where the episodes run from 30 – 50 minutes each (it varies) —and a two-hour and 22 minute theatrical version which played at festivals. I have no idea how coherent the theatrical version is—that’s a lot of story to cut down into 2 ½ hours! I suspect, though, that many people will find the 6+ hour miniseries to be something of a challenge. I was able to get through it, but that’s because I liked the pure crazed anarchy of it. Other viewers may not agree it’s worth seeing to until the end.

Directed by controversial Japanese director Sion Sono, who also gave us SUICIDE CLUB (2001, probably his most famous film), STRANGE CIRCUS (2005), LOVE EXPOSURE (2008), COLD FISH (2010), and WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013), TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL begins in a sushi restaurant where Manami (Ami Tomite, also in Sono’s TAG, 2015, and Yoshihiro Nishimura’s MEATBALL MACHINE KODOKU, 2017) is celebrating her 22nd birthday. Suddenly, a woman arrives who pulls out a machine gun and kills most of the people in the restaurant, until she is murdered by another group of killers. Everyone is after Manami, because when she turns 22, her secret powers will manifest.

It’s a long story. There are two groups of vampires. The Dracula Clan, the oldest group, once dominated but have since been forced underground, hidden from the society of humans. The new clan, the Corvin (or Neo-Vampire) Clan, control much of the above-ground world, unbeknownst to the human populace. In a last-ditch effort to return the Dracula Clan to prominence, the planets aligned on September 9, 1999. Children born at nine seconds past 9:09 on this day were considered sacred, and were secretly stolen and given blood of Dracula to suckle on, then they were returned to the hospitals. Three children were born at this time in Japan, but we assume others were born in other countries. When these children turn 22, they will have the power to resurrect the Dracula Clan and restore the clan to its former glory.

However, most of the children suckled on Dracula blood do not live to their 22nd birthday. Most go mad and kill themselves. Manami is the only one who survives, and she immediately becomes a chess piece in the struggle between the Dracula and the Corvin Clans. On the Dracula side, we have the relentless warrior named K (Kaho, of FOREBODING, 2017, and JOURNEY OF THE SKY GODDESS, 2019), who leads a gang of female assassins. She works for the “Master” – Dracula’s descendant in Romania. On the Corvin side, we’ve got the ambitious gangster Yamada (Shinnosuke Mitsushima, of BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, 2017) who wants to be the lord of the vampires, his lover Elizabeth Bathory (Megumi Kagurazaka, of Sono’s WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?, 2013, and Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS, 2010), and Elizabeth’s mother, an ancient vampire who looks like a shriveled up doll with a big head, until she’s given vampire blood to drink and turns into a youthful woman with pigtails!

Both sides want Manami, and fight to get her. This includes not only vampiric attacks, but lots of automatic guns and samurai swords. Vampires are killed more likely in a hail of bullets than with a wooden stake. At one point, Yamada opens the Hotel Requiem to some of the human population, inviting numerous young and attractive people who do not have any immediate family members (and won’t be missed). Yamada has sinister plans for them, involving the revelation that the world has come to an end (via nuclear destruction) while they’ve all been partying, and demanding that they feed the Corvin Clan with their blood. He also wants Manami and her sacred blood for himself. K does whatever she can to keep Manami away from him.

It’s a long, convoluted storyline with lots of blood, bullets, and overall violence. Sion Sono is known as an iconoclastic director in Japan, and his films aren’t for everyone. If you like the first episode, you’ll probably want to give it a chance. If not, you might want to invest the time elsewhere. But I really enjoyed it, from the insane storyline right down to the theme song by Japanese pop band, Tricot. An unexpectedly poignant storyline unfolds late in the series, involving the hotel’s chef named Cody, a vampire who sneaks out of the hotel to the outside world after his shift is done, and his friendship with a little girl who is the only human born in the hotel.

Fans of crazy, ultraviolent Japanese movies might have a good time with this one. If nothing else, TOKYO VAMPIRE HOTEL is unlike anything else on TV.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares