Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Leg Fighters (1980)

Director: Lee Tso-Nam
Notable Cast: Ha Kwong-Li, Dorian Tan Tao-Liang, Wang Hsieh, Tsai Hung, Peng Kang, Sun Jung-Chi, Shih Ting-Ken, Chin Lung
Also known as: The Invincible Kung Fu Legs

The last few years has seen a significant uptick in the amount and quality of proper releases for martial arts films from the golden age of the genre. For fans, like myself, it’s about time. Living in the realms of bootlegs and poor-quality editions, getting restored home video releases of so many overlooked classics is a miracle. When it was announced that the fan favorite The Leg Fighters was getting a coveted Blu Ray release through a new label, Pearl River, I was shocked. Most of the proper HK and martial arts releases were from the major two studios, Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, and the others have been buried to questionable DVDs and dubbed/VHS rips on the Wu Tang Collection via YouTube. In fact, prior to this release, I had only seen a dubbed low-quality version of this film. Needless to say, the fact that this film even exists in this format for the US means its worth buying for all fans of the genre.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Director: John Landis
Notable Cast: David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter, John Woodvine, Brian Glover

Writing about An American Werewolf in London is a daunting task. There are a slew of other writers and film critics who have analyzed the film from beginning to end for its cultural relevance, the strength of execution, and its ability to weave genres and, truthfully, most of them are smarter than I am. Nonetheless, I was tasked with the insurmountable task of reviewing the new Arrow Video Blu Ray release of the film and, thus, it’s time to wear my shoes and hike this mountain. To say that An American Werewolf in London is an American cinematic classic is a bit of an understatement. It’s a film that has lasted the test of time with its strange and off-kilter blend of horror and humor, but it might be most remembered for how it helped to modernize the werewolf genre along with the other big werewolf film in 1981 – The Howling.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Ring Collection (2019)

It was only a few years ago I wrote a piece at Blood Brothers about the relevancy of the Ring franchise for horror. At the time there was two new films due for release, the wildly entertaining Sadako vs Kayoko and the less-said-the-better American sequel, Rings. Now, it’s time to take a look at the franchise once again, not just because we are going another new film – Sadako, which sees the return of Hideo Nakata to the director’s chair, but because Arrow Video has done everyone a huge favor. They just released a phenomenal box set with new HD restorations of the first four Japanese and any fans of the films, cinema collectors, or even newbies will want to pick up this set and dig into its gold mine of contents.

It should be noted that the American release of this set is the same one as the UK one from last year, although the titles have been slightly changed to reflect the silly US titling which is Ringu and not Ring. I will continue to use the term Ring through this piece because, quite frankly, the name Ringu is stupid. Fortunately, my opinion on that seems to be backed fairly heavily on the special features of this set so at least there’s that.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Prey (1983)

Director: Edwin Brown
Notable Cast: Debbie Thureson, Steve Bond, Lori Lethin, Robert Wald, Gayle Gannes, Phillip Wenckus, Jackson Bostwick, Jackie Coogan

There isn’t a lot that one can expect from the slasher genre if we are being truly honest with ourselves. If a film has depth, a unique character perspective, or style, it’s already sliding into the upper echelon of what is to be expected. When broken down, there is only one real thing that I want to see from a slasher – entertainment. The formula isn’t rocket science, but the film, good or bad, just needs to be entertaining to some degree. Of course, that’s exactly what The Prey lacks. Normally, if Arrow Video is going to go to the effort and deliver a release like this filled with a new restoration, tons of special features, and a great package – you assume the film is probably some sort of lost gem. The Prey is not one.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Notable cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis

Doctor Sleep has all the ingredients to be either an unmitigated disaster or an unambiguous victory. Positioning itself as a follow-up to both the book and filmic versions of The Shining while having to tell its own, largely unrelated story. That’s a lot of juggling for any film, but add to the metaphor that two of those flying balls are hand grenades, and I mean that in the sense that director Mike Flanagan has to show proper reverence to two masters.

The Shining, as a book, is on the shortlist of absolute Stephen King masterpieces and is unambiguously supernatural in its telling. There is no question that the ghosts that Jack Torrence sees are literal, and the whole thing, although thematically and metaphorically about addiction, is real and is really happening. The Shining, as a film, is on the shortlist of greatest films ever made period, directed by a man who never produced a single dud and is nothing but ambiguous about everything in its telling. Focused almost exclusively with Jack Nicholson’s far less hinged and sympathetic take on Torrence, this movie is an exploration of abuse, isolation and madness, while maintaining the theme of addiction. Suffice it to say, King famously loathes the adaptation, which is the final wrinkle in what makes the concept of a Doctor Sleep movie so wild.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Telluride Horror Show 2019: Daniel Isn't Real (2019)

Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer
Notable Cast: Miles Robbins, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sasha Lane, Chukwudi Iwuji, Mary Stuart Masterson

At this point, while the term ‘elevated horror’ is making the rounds, I feel like we should address the latest trend of ‘neon horror.’ Can we make that a thing? The Neon Demon, Mandy, Bliss, and a dozen other films have all come out in the last few years that utilize throwback aesthetics like heavy synth scores, saturated neon lighting, and throwback visuals. Well, regardless if anyone else is going to use the term, I am. More or less because this is exactly where Daniel Isn’t Real falls into. Surrealistic horror with an old school approach to the visuals, but a modern approach to the narrative. While I adore all of the films mentioned above (that’s also just horror – let’s not even get started on the neon elements of John Wick and how that has affected action cinema) Daniel Isn’t Real handily belongs to that group. It’s a manic ride through the urban setting of its youth culture, slyly integrating social and moral commentaries into a film that increasingly feels more Clive Barker-esque as it unravels. It’s enigmatic, engaging, and most fittingly – entertaining. Not only will this end up being one of the best horror films of the year, it could very well find itself on the best films of the year list.

The problematic part about reviewing a film like Daniel Isn’t Real is that the film leans so heavily on the experiential portion of connecting with its audience that, to truly talk about why this film works, it would spoil so much of its plotting and character beats. It’s a fuckin’ great problem to have. The start of the film features the protagonist, Luke (played later by a character-defining performance from Miles Robbins,) as a kid who is revealed to be from a rather volatile home life. When he sees the aftermath of a vicious mass shooting on the street, his imaginary friend Daniel first appears. Although Daniel allows him to cope with his situation and give him a friend to talk to, Daniel eventually starts to push Luke in some problematic ways and with that, and the help of his mother, he locks Daniel away. Fast forward to Luke as a college student where his life is perpetually disappointing and, in an attempt to free his imagination and work on his own mental state, he unleashes Daniel once again.

A large part of Daniel Isn’t Real feels like it’s meant to be the Fight Club for the next generation. Many of the same concepts remain including the use of an imaginary friend of extreme toxic masculinity, an undercurrent subtext about mental instability, and a fantasy-like sense of style. It just handles those themes and weighty ideas in a different manner. Daniel Isn’t Real isn’t much for replicating the films its pulling influence from, but it certainly takes some of the better qualities and mixes them together with its own sense of identity. The concoction is intoxicating.

 Director Adam Egypt Mortimer comes out all guns blazing on this sophomore effort too. As mentioned previously, there is a visual style to the film that encompasses both modern and throwback values. The use of synth scores, the neon caked lighting, and the growing existential surrealism of Luke’s descent and rise against his imaginary friend give the film immense amounts of tone and atmosphere. With the stellar performances, including a career-defining high for both Miles Robbins and a truly fascinating turn for Patrick Schwarzenegger, the film rarely has a weak spot to think of and even the romantic subplot, given some very palpable energy by the chemistry between Robbins and Sasha Lane, is well integrated into the main conflict of the story.

To go much further would undermine the experience of watching Daniel Isn’t Real and although there are a few reveals in the second half that felt like they needed a bit more exploration at times, the well-executed and intriguing film that is delivered remains one of the best this year. It’s unnerving, it approaches the anxieties of modern youth in a fascinating way, and the execution is top-notch. Daniel might not be real, but the quality of this film is.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Telluride Horror Show 2019: Sweetheart (2019)

Director: JD Dillard
Notable Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Emory Cohen, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Benedict Samuel

As cinema continues to become more expensive for patrons to go to the theaters, the general clamor for bigger and more spectacular entertainment only becomes stronger. There are certainly counterpoints to this movement, but the percentage of films of a more intimate or smaller scale are quicker and quicker to be bumped from a wide release and onto streaming platforms. This is a trend that certainly ignites quite a few debates, but it’s a trend that is only becoming more prevalent as time passes. On the other hand, there’s a slew of great smaller and more intimate films that are still being made to help level out the playing field. Although I was fortunate enough to have the chance to see Sweetheart on the big screen via the Telluride Horror Show, this is a film that Blumhouse understandably sent to the smaller screen. It’s a fantastic film for what it is, but it doesn’t necessarily match the buzz and bluster that theatrical going audiences would want to visit in a wide theatrical release.

Countdown (2019)

Director: Justin Dec
Notable cast: Elizabeth Lail, Jordan Calloway, Talitha Eliana Bateman, PJ Byrne

Horror is an interesting genre to be a specific fan of. It tends to have the least studio oversight owing to lower overall budgets. This has been used to phenomenal effect over the years telling bigger, more insightful stories than you’d assume its plot allows. Hereditary and it’s exploration of family dynamics and legacy, Babadook and it’s exploration of mental health, The Shining and whatever interpretation is popular at the time. On the other hand, this can go the other way as well. With low budgets and low expectations come the people who see horror as low hanging fruit. A quick buck to be made, since they only have to be interesting enough to get comparatively few butts in seats to be profitable, and even if they’re not, they can license the movie out to several streaming services. The bottom line is they will make money, by and large, so they can be low effort.

I’m not trying to brush this lower effort class of film with a broad, universally terrible brush, because that wouldn’t be strictly fair. There are flashes of real ideas in these sometimes. I’m not saying Countdown is one of these better than it should be movies, quite the opposite actually, but I am trying to highlight that I believe there was potential, and perhaps potential in the future, because the idea here is actually pretty cool. In theory.