Sunday, December 29, 2019

Two Evil Eyes (1990)

Directors: George A. Romero, Dario Argento
Notable Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Ramy Zada, Bingo O’Malley, Harvey Keitel, Madeleine Potter, John Amos, Sally Kirkland, Kim Hunter, Tom Atkins

As a horror fan, there a few things I’m a sucker for. Well, it’s a lot of things. For the sake of this review, it’s necessary to know four of them: Edgar Allen Poe, George Romero, Dario Argento, and anthologies. Combining these four pieces into one film should be a recipe for success. Going into Two Evil Eyes, that’s the mindset I adopted. Particularly when Blue Underground gives the film some incredibly lavish treatment in this latest 3-Disc Blu Ray set. It’s something of a shame that it’s a film that I haven’t seen until this point, if anything for the four reasons above, but lukewarm reactions from a lot of my cinephile friends created hesitation in me to leap into the film. Maybe the idea of it is better than the actual product.

Apprentice to Murder (1988)

Director: Ralph L. Thomas
Notable Cast: Donald Sutherland, Chad Lowe, Mia Sara, Knut Husebo, Rutanya Alda, Eddie Jones, Mark Burton, Adrian Sparks, Tiger Haynes, Minnie Gentry

The use of the ‘based on true events’ gimmick is such a wild card that it’s hard to predict what it actually means for a film. In the case of Apprentice to Murder, it’s a signifier that the film is going to ride its melodrama pretty hard. The film had a decent amount of hype around it for me, thanks to be somewhat of a rare film prior to the new Arrow Video Blu Ray release, but now that it’s in my collection, it’s understandable why the film went by the wayside without much of a murmur. Apprentice to Murder is forgettable. It certainly has its merits, particularly in how the film handles its performances and many of its subplots. On the whole though, perhaps it’s not so surprising that it was a film that fell off of the path of mainstream classics and into the ditch where cult cinema fans would find it.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Malevolence Trilogy (Malevolence, Bereavement, Malevolence 3: Killer) (2004, 2010, 2018)

By 2004, the end of the post-Scream slasher resurgence was finally coming to an end. Although that is a heavily debated era of horror by fans and critics alike, its end spelled some good things to come for horror. Namely, it allowed the slasher genre to take a step back from the limelight and go back underground where it could find some creative forces. When the first Malevolence film premiered at the end of 2004 (although it did not receive a home video release until the next year – which is where I discovered the film) it was one of the films that marked that shift in style. It found enough of a cult audience that director/writer/producer Stevan Mena was able to finish off his trilogy of films, even against some horrific circumstances that had the third film postponed almost indefinitely. The trilogy has now found its way onto Blu Ray and it’s a welcome addition to any horror fan’s collection. This piece will cover all three films – a weird gap in our catalog admittedly since I sang the praises of the films since 2005 and hopefully, it will spur a few people to take a chance on this remarkably fascinating franchise.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Black Christmas (2019)

Directed by: Sophia Takal
Notable cast: Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donahue, Cary Elwes

Remakes are always a tricky business. I say this as one who’s generally more favorable to them than most. In theory, you have to serve the twin masters of appeasing the original fans and thrilling new ones or focus on one or the other, often alienating the unserved audience. There are certainly decent examples of all three and terrible examples as well, but it is a conflict all remakes share. The new version of Black Christmas largely focuses on the “thrilling new take” angle, and I think that it may have unlocked the true potential of this story’s concept, while admittedly walking into a few pitfalls of the genre as well.

Maintaining the basic conceit of sorority girls staying on campus during the holiday season and then being taunted by phone, stalked, and killed, it’s the only real callback to either previous version of this story. The original Black Christmas was very much an exploration of the “killer is calling from within the house” campfire story archetype, while this new one is a pure slasher focused through a lens of modern feminism. I think there are a lot of good ideas in play, although I do think the narrative fails the concept here.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Toys Are Not for Children (1972)

Director: Stanley H. Brassloff
Notable Cast: Marcia Forbes, Harlan Cary Poe, Evelyn Kingsley, Luis Arroyo, Fran Warren, Peter Lightstone, Tiberia Mitri

Cult cinema provides a variety of surprises lying under the docile surface of what generally looks like calm waters. Even the most mundane of genres can pop with something impactful and strange once a person starts dragging the waters to find what’s beneath. Toys Are Not for Children is one of those odd films that can be dredged up from the depths. Taking what could have translated into a more serious and abrasive adult drama concept from a relatively exploitative baseline, the film has a raw and occasionally dream-like quality that adds a surprising amount of style to its low budget. The film struggles to find a cohesion of tone and the messages are blurred, albeit intentionally so at times, but the overall experience of what is brought to the surface here is evocative and gets the mind thinking – even if it stumbles through some of it.