Dressed to Kill (1980, Directed by Brian De Palma) English 6

Starring Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon, Dennis Franz, David Margulies

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( 6-Good Film)

Lurid. Skilled. Ludicrous.

Director, Brian De Palma, is a technical wizard. He is a master stylist and can do amazing things with a camera. He’s also never made a boring movie. Many times, though, he can work with lesser material, or, in this case, a plot that is pretty inane (not to mention derivative of Hitchcock’s Psycho). Angie Dickinson is Kate Miller, a bored, sexually-frustrated housewife who frequently visits a psychiatrist, Doctor Robert Elliot (Caine), for some guidance. De Palma’s wife at the time, Nancy Allen, plays a prostitute, Liz Blake, who witnesses a violent murder. None of this matters as much as the schlocky atmosphere or the impressive sequences De Palma puts together. The parts are truly worth more than the whole. A lot of the content is pure male fantasy. Supermodels for nurses. Bored housewives. Etc. Like I said, it’s not boring.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(902)

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986, Directed by Brian Gibson) English 5

Starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Oliver Robins

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(5-Okay Film)

Unnecessary. Slapdash. Anemic.

I’m debating how harsh to be about Poltergeist II: The Other Side. The obvious truth is that it’s not very good, but it’s difficult to gauge just how bad it is. Bringing back the Freeling family for another go-round with the supernatural, this time they square off against the ghost of an evil cult leader, Reverend Henry Kane (played effectively by Beck), one of the few things that work in this sequel. Aside from the creepy Reverend, there isn’t much of anything to remember about this movie. Tangina (Rubinstein), great in the first film, returns. A new character, Taylor (Sampson), is added, but the film has very few ideas and goes nowhere with them. It’s not an unpleasant watch. It’s over very quickly but there’s nothing remotely thrilling or scary happening. Horror and comedy rely so much on surprise. Nearly every remake or sequel in these two genres is worthless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(897)

The Invisible Man (2020, Directed by Leigh Whannell) English 7

Starring Elizabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman

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(7-Very Good Film)

Tense. Surprising. Skilled.

H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man followed a scientist, Griffin, as a botched experiment leads him down the path to madness and tragedy. It’s been adapted numerous times in varying degrees of faithfulness, but ultimately, I feel, I’ve seen that movie. Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man does something different. It makes Griffin a pure villain, an abusive husband, and his wife, Cee, the protagonist. She takes extreme steps to break free of her rich, brilliant husband, and just when it appears that she’s free for good (he’s ruled dead), a mysterious force seems to be plaguing her attempts at living a normal life again. This is a tense outing right from the get-go. It’s well-paced, strongly performed by Moss who, without vanity, plays the battered woman convincingly, which is the key to the film’s strength.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(894)

The Cabin in the Woods (2011, Directed by Drew Goddard) English 6

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchinson, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Sigourney Weaver

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( 6-Good Film)

Clever. Surprising. Unsatisfying.

I like the “stupid teenagers in the woods” horror films, but we know their ins and outs by heart at this point. The Cabin in the Woods sacrifices a little in the gratification department in order to make it all seem fresh again. Yes, the fundamentals are still present. A group of five friends huddles together in some godforsaken cabin in the middle of nowhere. Something horrific comes there way, and…that’s all I’ll say because what works best about this film needs the element of surprise. It pulls the rug out from underneath our expectations. It’s for that same reason that I consider it more interesting to think about or discuss than to watch. Besides being unpolished, it’s designed to disappoint and it does. Others find its cleverness enough to make it a classic. I simply don’t. I also think it owes something to the superior Funny Games films by Michael Haneke.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(877)

The Horror of Party Beach (1964, Directed by Del Tenney) English 3

Starring John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allan Laurel, Eulabelle Moore, Marilyn Clarke, Agustin Mayor

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(3-Horrible Film)

Laughable. Mindless. Unscary.

Deep down in the waters off of a Connecticut beach lives a new species of sea life. Grotesquely altered by radioactive waste, these corrupted creatures are heading for land and I’m prepared to be horrified- it is The Horror at Party Beach, after all- but then, the creatures surface, looking like an H.R Pufnstuf character. Once we see the “monsters,” the rest of the movie becomes a bad joke. To be honest, the movie was never good. From the start, the acting is wooden (in that independent-filmmaking, amateurish sort of way) and the dialogue is absurd. The characters are nondescript, all except Eulabelle, the black maid that made me roll my eyes with every line she’s given to read. The music sucks too.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(853)

Train to Busan (2016, Directed by Yeon Sang-ho) Korean 7

Starring Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Deong-seok, Choi Woo-shik, Sohee, Kim Eui-sung

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Ingenious. Tame.

Trains have been prime real estate for a number of intriguing film premises. With the popularity of zombies, it was only a matter of time before we’d get zombies on trains. Train to Busan stars Gong Yoo as a selfish, neglectful father taking his kind daughter (Su-an) from Seoul to Busan (where her mother lives) aboard the KTX. On the way, an outbreak infects some of the passengers who turn into lobotomized, flesh-eating zombies, making the trip a survival of the fittest free-for-all, with a handful of uninfected working together. Trains are excellent set-pieces because they bring together a variety of people, making for diverse characters, and most importantly, they isolate the characters from the rest of the world. If characters can just leave a situation, it’s not as compelling. If you have ten or so passengers stuck inside of a moving train with a few dozen zombies, that’s compelling. Aside from its neat premise, Train to Busan gets a lot of mileage out of its father-daughter relationship, though the workaholic dad is a bit hackneyed at this point and the ending gets too sentimental for my liking. I also felt the horror element is rather tame for my taste but Train to Busan is more of an adrenaline rush than a horror film, and as such, it’s very good.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(827)

Blood and Black Lace (1964, Directed by Mario Bava) English 5

Starring Eva Bartok, Cameron Mitchell, Thomas Reiner, Mary Arden, Lea Lander, Arianna Gorini, Dante DiPaolo

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(5-Okay Film)

Gruesome. Skilled. Disjointed.

A killer in a blank mask. A damsel in distress. I’ve seen enough of these films to know that no one is coming to save her. She’ll die. Much of the director, Mario Bava’s, skill lies in how creatively and artfully he kills off his cast (primarily women from what I’ve seen). By the way, that wasn’t just one scene from Blood and Black Lace that I was describing. That’s about six or seven consecutive scenes. That’s the whole movie, and it would become so influential that it spawned dozens of like-minded pictures to the point that these films became their own sub-genre (specific to Italian cinema) known as Giallo films.

  I’ve seen about a dozen now of varying quality and there are certain details that you find in most, if not all of them. Large cast of female characters. This one isn’t true of all Giallo films but it’s true of some of the best I’ve seen (Suspiria, What Have You Done to Solange, Phenomena). You find this a lot in American horror films as well and I don’t think it’s a matter of pure misogyny. I’ve always defended horror films on this matter. I think a woman (or a child) in peril is simply more terrifying than a grown man, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. The gratuitous nudity in American horror films is a different matter but I haven’t noticed any of that in the Giallo pictures I’ve seen, although the women characters are always gorgeous, regardless of the setting. Another common characteristic is the whodunnit, killer in a mask aspect of all these movies. It’s a gruesome shift from the friendly, witty whodunnit pictures of classic Hollywood that were entertaining but devoid of any malice or horror. Also, Giallo films all emphasize color. Lush, over-saturated color. Even the ones from the ’60s when most films were still using black and white. They all seem to have the same strengths and weaknesses too. Though they may differ in overall quality, all of these films eschew witty dialogue, character development, plot logic, and believable acting in favor of fluid camera movement, mise en scène, set pieces, lighting, and gore. Mario Bava and Dario Argento are masters of the latter crafts. 

Blood and Black Lace features an ensemble cast of beautiful women and creepy looking men all working at a fashion house in…Italy, I suppose. The top-billed character, played by Eva Bartok, is named Countess Christina Como, but then the rest of the characters are Nicole, Peggy, and Greta so I don’t know. I’ll have to pay more attention to the location next time. In any case, one of the girls is killed, and everyone working there is a suspect. Everyone working there is in danger for that matter. You can’t have a slasher film (which Giallo films ushered in) and have only one victim. The majority of Blood and Black Lace is extended scenes of random female characters (all the characters feel random with the complete disregard for development) being killed off. If there’s a plot, it wasn’t understood by me, and the final act, rather than upping the ante, simmers down to a dull rather unsatisfying conclusion. The dialogue and acting are unsurprisingly asinine, and the previously mentioned, generously deemed ensemble acting is actually just an exercise in episodic horror that amounts to an awfully disjointed whole. What stands out and what’s positive about Blood and Black Lace is the visual elements. The killer’s mask, the elegant camera movement, the command of space. Bava is great and he’s done better than this film. What I appreciate most about Blood and Black Lace is the obvious influence it had on much better pictures. As an early example of the Giallo film, it seemed to spark something deeply appealing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(794)

Scary Movie (2000, Directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans) English 5

Starring Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Carmen Electra, Shannon Elizabeth, Regina Hall, Kurt Fuller, Anna Farris

(5-Okay Film)

Scattershot. Amusing. Crude.

It was a very long time ago now, but Scary Movie actually felt remarkably fresh at the time. Horror movies were ripe for spoofing and this was before a handful of sequels and ripoffs came and turned spoofs into a red-alert for “bad movie.” Scary Movie starts with a group of friends in a town beset by murder and goes on to spoof as many classic ’90s horror films as possible-films like The Sixth Sense and Scream- mocking the often laughable logic of classic horror movies. It runs the gamut of humor, moving between the hilarious, the amusing, the just plain stupid, and the embarrassing. Overall, it’s still amusing but not nearly as fresh as it once was.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(788)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace) English 6

Starring Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Nancy Kyes, Brad Schacter, Michael Currie

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(6-Good Film)

Underrated. Tense. Mindless.

No, Michael Myers is not in this movie. Somebody decided to call this horror flick Halloween III despite having nothing to do with the previous two installments, and, regardless of what their plan was, they did Season of the Witch a major disservice. It’s no masterpiece but it’s also not the waste of time that so many disgruntled fans say it is on IMDB. It follows Dr. Daniel Challis (Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge (Nelkin) working to uncover a diabolical conspiracy in the small town of Santa Mira. Local toy company, Silver Shamrock, is making Halloween masks that destroy the wearer. There’s more to it than that but it still won’t make much sense. I admitted it’s not a masterpiece. It is, however, creepy and effective, a tense hour-and-a-half experience; something like an adult Goosebumps.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(751)

Happy Death Day (2017, Directed by Christopher B. Landon) English 6

Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Phil Vu, Charles Aitken, Rachel Matthews

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(6-Good Film)

Silly. Entertaining. Derivative.

By its own implied admission, Happy Death Day borrows/steals heavily from the Bill Murray classic, Groundhog Day. That’s not a problem though since the premise (an unexplained time loop that causes its selfish protagonist to repeat the same day) is so good, it could go in a dozen possible directions. Here, reworked for the horror genre, a college sorority girl named Tree is stuck on Monday, September 18th, which happens to be her birthday. Repeating your birthday wouldn’t seem so bad, if not for the brutal serial killer murdering her at the end of every loop. I enjoy a good slasher-whodunit, and Happy Death Day delivers on that count, although it’s more funny than scary. Suffers from downright silliness at times, but is engaging enough to be passable entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(749)