Inferno (1980, Directed by Dario Argento) English 6

Starring Irene Miracle, Daria Nicolodi, Leigh McCloskey, Eleonora Giorgi,  Alida Valli

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(6-Good Film)

Striking. Dream-like. Limited.

When Mark Elliot (McCloskey) goes looking for his beloved sister, Rose (Miracle), he finds a centuries-old supernatural mystery involving the Three Mothers (three evil sisters) instead. Director Argento is a master at visual storytelling. So skilled in fact that he’s able to build suspense without any discernible character development. The opening sequence case in point. A woman we don’t yet climbs in and out of the water multiple times and it’s incredibly tense, despite the fact that she means nothing to us at this point and we don’t have any idea what it is we’re supposed to be afraid of. Inferno, however, is not his strongest work. Visually striking, the overall film feels too episodic and lacking in any motivating force. The characters exist simply to die spectacularly and their threat’s not scary enough.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(553)

The Bat (1959, Directed by Crane Wilbur) English 6

Starring Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Gavin Gordon, Lenita Lane, Darla Hood, John Sutton

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(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Involving. Campy.

Two murderous plots are afoot in the small, seemingly sleepy town that mystery writer, Cornelia van Gorder (Moorehead), spends her summers in, and both appear to revolve around a fortune in money missing from the local bank. Vincent Price plays a doctor and the only one who knows exactly where the money’s hidden (since he killed the man who stole it). Then there’s a figure being called “the bat,” terrorizing the town with a string of murders. It all blends together rather simply and the main whodunnit plot is obvious in my opinion, but The Bat is entertaining. The confined setting and cast of older female leads are terrific.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(539)

The Faculty (1998, Directed by Robert Rodriguez) English 7

Starring Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Famke Janssen, Shawn Hatosy, Robert Patrick, Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart, Usher Raymond, Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth, Christopher McDonald

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(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Clever. Messy.

What Scream was to slasher films, The Faculty hoped to be to sci-fi horror classics like The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with its cast of teen stars and a surplus of pop culture references. Written by the same scribe, Kevin Williamson, and directed by a young Robert Rodriguez, the result is an often ridiculous, always a blast film, with a fantastic cast and a handful of bad special effects. Elijah Wood stars as a nerdy student at Harrington High, Casey, who first discovers the weird happenings afoot, hiding in a closet next to mean girl, Delilah (Brewster). An alien race is not so slowly taking over the bodies of Harrington High’s faculty and they’re coming for the students next. Of course, no one believes them, except for jock, Stan (Hatosy), outcast, Stokley (DuVall), bad boy, Zeke (Hartnett), and the new girl, Marybeth (Harris). Rodriguez isn’t what I would call a master of suspense, and The Faculty isn’t very scary at all, but he knows how to entertain, and The Faculty is one of his most entertaining films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(499)

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016, Directed by Mike Flanagan) English 6

Starring Elizabeth Reaser, Henry Thomas, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso

(6-Good Film)

Solid. Bleak. Well-acted.

Horror sequels don’t have a good track record. If a horror film is even remotely successful, studios feel the need to milk the formula dry. The reason is clear. Horror pictures are inexpensive and generally yield high returns, regardless of quality. The first Ouija film earned over 100 million dollars on a five mil budget, despite having a 7% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. A sequel was expected. The surprise is how good this sequel is.

Set in 1960s L.A as opposed to its predecessor’s modern-day setting, the film kicks off with a séance performed by the Zander family comprised of the widowed mother (Alice), and two daughters-17 (Lina) and 8 (Doris). The séance is a somewhat elaborate scam that the mother rationalizes as a way to bring comfort to those who’ve lost loved ones. More accurately though, it’s a desperate means of supporting her two daughters as a single mom. After the older daughter, Lina discovers the new Hasbro board game, Ouija, at a friend’s party, and suggests adding it to their business, the fake communication with spirits becomes a genuine communication at the Zander home, and Doris begins demonstrating a clear knack at the process. While the mother believes Doris’ newfound skills to be a blessing from God, Lina grows concerned and seeks help from the school priest. A lot of what ensues is standard spook house tactics: jump scares, sordid backstories, possessed children. It’s a fifty-year-old formula.

What works for this film, and elevates it beyond its familiar trappings is the commitment to character development and the resulting performances. The cast of unknowns-Elizabeth Reaser as the mom, Annalise Basso as Lina, and especially Lulu Wilson as Doris- are excellent. The latter is equally convincing as her character shifts from the endearingly strange little girl to her terrifyingly sinister possessed substitute. Her bright eyes can be adorable or malevolent.

The pace of the film is confident, but largely indebted to better movies before it, and the climax manages to surprise without all-out shocking. If I wanted to find a flaw, I might say the depiction of demons and possession is made too explicit at times, missing out on an aura of mystery that is potentially scarier. The ending is gruesome, made even more startling when seen in contrast to that other big horror sequel of the year, The Conjuring 2. Where that film offered solace and refuge in faith, this film provides no salvation; just horror. How you feel about that will go a long way in how much you enjoy this movie. I consider it an above average horror film and a welcome Halloween excursion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(485)

Phantom of the Paradise (1974, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 8

Starring Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Archie Hahn, Gerrit Graham

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Outrageous. Insane. Dazzling.

A nobody composer, Winslow Leach (Williams), has his work, what was to be his magnum opus, stolen by a ruthless record producer who runs a night club called the Paradise. A heinous plot against Winslow leads to disfigurement, and so he stalks The Paradise looking to exact his revenge. There are touches of Faustus and The Picture of Dorian Gray in addition to the obvious Phantom of the Opera inspiration in this movie, and what a trip it all is. The Phantom of the Paradise is completely nuts. The eye-popping colors, Brian De Palma’s technical wizardry, the excess. It’s incredibly silly at times, but often clever and satirical. “Beef” will forever live on in my mind, but you’d have to see the film to know what I mean. Hilarious and the music is fantastic. Easily my favorite adaptation of Phantom of the Opera.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(472)

Troll 2 (1990, Directed by Claudio Fragasso) English 1

Starring Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Connie McFarland, Margo Prey

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(1-All-Time Bad Film)

Hilarious. Inept. Talentless.

A young boy tries to convince his family that the town they’re vacationing in is overrun with goblins. It’s important to note that there are no actual trolls in this picture (just one of its quirks). Well known as perhaps the worst film ever made, this “horror movie,” whose revelations include a character realizing that the town he’s in-Nilbog- is goblin spelled backward, is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Its inanity in every aspect reaches legendary lows. As of today, I will crown this catastrophe the worst film of all-time.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(461)

Us (2019, Directed by Jordan Peele) English 7

Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Tim Heidecker, Elizabeth Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Evan Alex

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(7-Very Good Film)

Illusive. Adept. Messy.

A group of doppelgangers terrorizes an affluent African-American family. Expecting a horror film that reflected ideas of the duality of man, Us is instead about privilege and classism. There’s the Wilson family-mom (Nyong’o), dad (Duke), daughter (Joseph), son (Alex)-vacationing in beautiful Santa Cruz, the perfect nuclear family, and there’s “the tethered,” doppelgangers dwelling in tunnels below society, voiceless and inconsequential. This is, at least, how I came to understand red-hot filmmaker, Jordan Peele’s, latest, a film abundant in metaphors, foreshadowing, and red herrings. It’s difficult to put your finger on what exactly it all means. Especially with the amount of questions I still have. What’s clear for me is that I will be revisiting this film at some point. Us failed to satisfy me viscerally or cathartically. It becomes obvious all too soon, who would live and who would die, diluting some of the suspense. Us appeals more to the intellect, and as a result, time and repeated viewings will tell how good it actually is.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(457)