Last Update 4/23/18

 

The Leech Woman (1960) 

I hadn’t seen this since the 1960s. A woman acquires a method of restoring her youth periodically, unfortunately it requires the death of men to work. She kills her obnoxious husband and a number of other victims. The problem with this one is that even the “good” male characters are easily seduced in a rather depressing evaluation of human nature. Rather simple minded but reasonably effective. 4/23/18

The Projected Man (1966) 

This feels very much like a 1950s movie. An experiment in teleportation is being undermined by a rival who wants to steal the discovery. The scientist who is actually responsible tries to pre-empt the attack by projecting himself, but something goes wrong and he is badly warped. If it was not at the tail end of that period, it might have a better reputation, but as it is, it remains derivative and not very interesting. 4/22/18

The Nest (1987) 

Nature goes wild again, in this case killer cockroaches with a taste for human blood. They first appear on an isolated island where the local population consists primarily of marginally competent actors. The plot is a copy of Jaws. There’s a developer and a politician hoping to turn the island into a tourist trap. The plot advances predictably with the cockroaches invisible at first, then beginning to claim victims. The effects are at times embarrassing. The late attempt to be funny is unfunny and inappropriate. Not awful. Not particularly good. 4/21/18

Rampage (2018) 

I didn’t expect much from this adaptation of the computer game, and I got even less. The plot is simple – a wolf, a gorilla, and a crocodile are all exposed to an experimental substance that makes them grow bigger, stronger, angrier, and more resistant to damage. And they’re all headed toward Chicago. The visuals are fun but the story line verges on being insulting. People know things before they are told, the time scale is inconsistent, and there are too many coincidences. Much of the explanation makes no sense at all. A colonel would never be given the authority to order downtown Chicago completely destroyed without consulting with his superiors and civilian officials, particularly when the city was only half evacuated. And how do you evacuate half of Chicago in less than an hour? I should have waited for the DVD. 4/20/18

Attack of the Mushroom People (1963) 

This is an adaptation of “Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson, a very creepy story. The movie, for all its faults, is creepy as well. A group of people are shipwrecked on an island of giant fungi and as time passes they realize their own bodies have been invaded by spores and they are going to become part of the landscape, their bodies transformed. Much better than it could have been particularly on a low budget. The title does not reflect anything that happens in the story, as no one attacks anything. Also known as Matango. 4/19/18

Zulu Dawn (1979)

This excellent film is a reasonably accurate retelling of the story of the massacre of a British regiment at the hands of the Zulu. Problems with the way ammunition was doled out, poor intelligence, arrogance about the superiority of British arms, and the overwhelming weight of numbers were the major factors in the disaster. It is hard not to be cheering on the Zulu, who were clearly the offended party, despite the valor of some of the British soldiers. Beautifully photographed and choreographed. I’ve watched this half a dozen times. 4/18/18

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

This rather odd western quasi-horror adventure film features Kurt Russell as Sheriff in a small town which is raided by cannibalistic hill men after they are led there inadvertently by a drifter. Russell and a couple of others attempt to rescue the kidnapped townspeople. Much of the film is just the small posse’s journey to the confrontation, but it is a strange and rather compelling sequence. Matthew Fox is a very strange quasi-villain. The last few minutes are brutal and gory and I was surprised about who actually survived. 4/17/18

Spasms (1983) 

Oliver Reed and Peter Fonda star in this horror adventure. It’s about a giant snake which Reed believes is telepathically linked to him. Telepathy, supposedly, is the result of a virus. He arranges to have the snake captured and brought to the US for study. There is also a rather silly snake cult who hope to hijack the snake. Rather predictably, the snake escapes during the attempted heist and has to be tracked down. Most of the time we don’t see more than shadows. Toward the end, it appears that the snake is actually supernatural. Its size varies from scene to scene, rather carelessly. The ending is a real let down, and doesn’t even make sense. 4/16/18

Grey Knight (1993) 

This tale of the supernatural during the Civil War has also been known as Ghost Brigade, The Lost Brigade, and The Killing Box. There’s a good cast – Martin Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Adrian Pasdar, Ray Wise – and the film generally avoids the clichés of the genre, but just barely. During the fighting in Tennessee, something seems to be attacking soldiers from both sides indiscriminately. An investigation is launched by the Union army, with a Confederate prisoner of war assisting. The victims are mutilated or crucified or otherwise mistreated. It’s voodoo magic. The dead are rising, although otherwise they don’t act much differently – other than killing everyone they encounter. No special effects or even any notable makeup. 4/15/18

Annabelle Creation (2017) 

Prequel to The Conjuring. A couple of dollmakers lose their daughter in an accident. A few years later they – entirely implausibly – are chosen as foster parents for six unrelated female children, all at once, at their remote location, without any obvious vetting, and despite the clear mental illness of the wife. No matter how good the acting and other production values might be, such an egregious break from reality is almost certain to prove to be a fatal flaw. The child actors do a good job, but the material and editing fall short. The creepy scenes just aren’t creepy and the animated doll is such a cliché that it almost becomes laughable. 4/14/18

Ready Player One (2018)

This was a game player’s wetdream. A bunch of mostly kids battle an evil but not very competent businessman for control of a virtual world. The visuals are superb and the performances are mostly excellent. The plot holes are relatively small and so much is happening that I didn’t notice most of them until after I left the theater. It’s fun picking out tidbits from other movies strewn through the movie. I didn’t understand how they could operate a private army and conduct multiple violent and large scale assaults with impunity, but one man waving a gun that he didn’t even fire somehow merited four police cars. A pivotal plot element, the deactivation of a magical object, is a complete cheat, violating the rules that have been established, but I won't reveal the spoiler here, If it was not so important to the plot, it would be inconsequential. As it stands, it invalidated the story for me. 4/13/18

Zorro’s Black Whip (1944)  

This cliffhanger serial is not really about Zorro. It’s set in Idaho, not California, and involves a murderous businessman who does not want Idaho to become a state. He is willing to kill or intimidate anyone opposed to his plans. A local woman puts on a black mask and picks up a whip and is known in fact as the Black Whip, not Zorro. After multiple near death incidents, she finally defeats the bad guy and paves the way to statehood. Not awful, but the title is really misleading and it is good to see a female heroine this far back. 4/12/18

Pay the Ghost (2015)

Nicholas Cage stars in this mainstream horror thriller. His young son mysteriously disappears on Halloween. A year later he senses that the boy is trying to communicate with him, and also learns that there are numerous child disappearances on Halloween every year in the city. This leads him to perhaps a bit too easily discover that a witch and her children were burned generations earlier and the witch’s ghost takes children to a kind of limbo every Halloween. But they’re all still there. He eventually rescues his son and two others, but for some reason makes no effort to lead the hundreds of other children back to the world. I had several questions that never got answered, but it was good enough to hold my attention to the end. 4/11/18

I See You.Com (2006) 

When his parents go broke, a teenager fits the house with hidden cameras and starts a reality television style website. It becomes successful, but with consequences. This is a somewhat over the top farce with some satire mixed in, but the performances – Beau Bridges, Rosanna Arquette, Shiri Appleby – are all well above average and saved what was from time to time a rather silly story. Not a comedic classic but fun if you’re in the right mood. 4/10/18

The Dark Tower (2017)  

Adaptation of part of the series of fantasy novels by Stephen King which, I confess, I never really enjoyed. The movie pleased me even less. For one thing, much of it is not the story I remember, and the parts that are the same don’t feel the same. For another, it almost seems as though they wanted to make it into a movie for kids. The special effects are okay and the performances are more than competent, but things seem to come from out of nowhere and while it falls short of being incoherent, it is at times quite disorganized. I have not heard that they plan to do more books in the series, but I hope not. 4/9/18

Zulu (1964)

Michael Caine is the less than admirable officer in this recreation of the amazing defense of a small compound by a handful of British soldiers when they are beset by a very large Zulu army. I have read a detailed account of this battle and other than a few minor details, this is astonishingly accurate. This and the associated movie fifteen years later are among my favorites, and I’ve watched them several times over the years. Some of the photography and sequences of scenes are superb. The two movies always feel fresh and lively and I consider them two of the best historical movies of all time, although this is marginally the better of the two. 4/8/18

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything (1980) 

The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Dynamite (1981) 

The first is taken from the excellent John D. MacDonald novel, which would probably have been much better had it not been made for television, which would rule out nudity and other adult aspects of the story. The second was original to tv, with a different cast, and is even less interesting.  The premise is a magical stopwatch which freezes time for everyone except the person holding it when it is engaged. In the first, Robert Hays discovers that his very rich uncle has left him only a pocket watch in his will. There are crooks interested in the dead uncle’s business secrets, and his former board of trustees, who think the protagonist has embezzled a very large amount of money. The second has a less coherent plot and is close to unwatchable. 4/7/18

The House That Dripped Blood (1970) 

A Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee anthology of four stories, with a frame story about the house the various characters live in. The first is about an author whose malevolent killer character keeps appearing to him. It turns out to be his wife’s secret lover. The second is awful. The owner of a wax museum is a psychopathic killer. The third involves a child who discovers she is a witch. The fourth, with Jon Pertwee, is played mostly for laughs and was my favorite. It involves a cloak that turns people into vampires. Nothing really great but nothing bad either. 4/6/18

Headhunter (1988)  

I saw this when it first came out and I always liked Kay Lenz so it stuck in my memory as a better than average horror movie. A voodoo ceremony releases a demon in New Orleans, which decapitates some of its victims and possesses others.  Lenz and her partner are detectives investigating the series of gruesome murders, but naturally they don’t suspect that there is a supernatural being at work. Quite suspenseful, well-acted, and the plot makes reasonable sense given its initial premise. The personal problems of the two detectives provide more texture than is usual in this sort of movie.  4/5/18

Zorro’s Fighting Legion (1939) 

A villain in a suit of armor plans to install himself as emperor of Mexico, at the expense of the downtrodden. Zorro organizes a legion of masked fighters to help him disrupt the man’s plans. This is a cliff hanger serial broken up into multiple episodes, at the end of each of which Zorro or someone else is in mortal danger or presumed dead, only to be saved at the beginning of the next installment. Zorro features in several of these serials, of which this is the best. 4/4/18

Jane and the Lost City (1987) 

An adventure spoof based on a newspaper comic from the 1930s. Jane is off to find a lost city in Africa before it can be exploited by Nazis under the command of Maud Adams. The comedy does not always work but the adventures are entertaining, some of the scenery is nice, and Adams is a great villain. This was a lot better than I remembered from when I first watched it thirty years ago, which was a pleasant surprise. Frequently silly, but deliberately so, and it pokes fun at the conventions of similar films rather pointedly at times. The title role, however, is played by an actress who has no real screen presence, and she’s supposed to be sexy but it’s so artificial that it isn’t. You have to enjoy farce to like this one. 4/3/18

Mosquito (1995)

Some kind of spaceship crashes near a camping area, after which mosquitoes begin to grow larger than dogs. Indifferent acting mixes with some misguided attempts to be funny as several campers and rangers and others fight for their lives against the growing hordes of overgrown bloodsuckers. Mediocre writing (the study of meteors is not meteorology) and special effects (the mosquitos usually look like rag dolls). Radiation doesn’t work the way it is described here. The idiot plot lives. Three people find the campground full of corpses, and instead of driving away to seek help, they decide to explore among the dozens of dead bodies - separately. The “star” is Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface.  4/2/18

The Crooked Man (2016)  

This one borrows from the Candyman series. A group of kids recite an online rhyme that supposedly summons a supernatural killer. One of them is killed and another is assumed to be the killer and sent to a mental facility for several years. Now an adult, she has been released and she returns, convinced that the Crooked Man will return and kill the others. The advertising materials for this movie are dreadful. The dvd case says that she returns after eighteen years. It is only six years. The write up on IMDB says they sang a song to invoke the creature. Actually, they recite a rhyme. The acting is great but the writing needs work. The police would NOT refuse to write up an assault and death threats because they were too busy. And why is the Crooked Man able to kill people who had nothing to do with the rhyme, and why wait years to finish killing the ones who were? The story begins to fall apart after a while. Too many implausible events, too much inane dialogue, too many coincidences. How convenient that the expert on the Crooked Man lives in the same town! And so did the man who wrote an entire book about the rhyme. And so does his daughter who concealed information about her father’s suspicious death. And so is the Crooked Man’s actual home, even though he kills people all over the world.  And why would a hospital allow two people to be present during the emergency treatment of a victim, particularly two who are also wanted fugitives.  I lost all belief in the story when the police arrest someone that they know is innocent for no particular reason. The time frame is also off. The kids couldn’t be more than eight in the opening scene. Six years later, they’d be fourteen, but they are all high school graduates. Terrible ending. 4/1/18

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