Showing posts with label horror movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horror movies. Show all posts

Jun 4, 2020

MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)



It's an undated 18th-century Austria, and two witch-hunters - Lord Cumberland (Henry Lom) and his apprentice, Count Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier), have come to a small village to root out its witchy influence. Already in attendance is Albino (pronounced Al-bee-no, and played by Reggie Nalder), the acting witch-hunter and all-around misogynist, who accuses any woman of witchcraft if she does not submit to his sexual demands. At first, Lord Cumberland seems to be rational, punishing Albino for his behavior and removing him from his service, but Cumberland soon lets the power go to his head and acts on his sexual desires much in the same way. His young apprentice has no choice to rebel, and that may have more than a little to do with the fact that he's begun falling in love with the beautiful and sultry Vanessa Benedikt (Olivera Katarina). Things soon spiral out of control as Lord Cumberland and his peons begin accusing the most random of people as being in league with the devil; the biggest offense, it would seem, is causing impotence in men. 

Talk about a limp reason! (Terrible.)


Goddamn, Udo Kier was handsome in his youth, wasn't he? What a handsome man! Look at those eyes! Why was he never cast as a James Bond villain? He's the perfect amount of handsome and miscellaneous European. They should have cast him in “A Man Too Handsome,” and James Bond would’ve fought how handsome he was. (This would have been one of the Timothy Dalton ones.) Man, I wish he'd come save me from Henry Lom!

Uh oh, I've really gotten off track here. I better get back to the film.

It goes without saying that Mark of the Devil, more than anything, is about men forcing their dominion over women, threatening them with torture and death should they not submit to their sexual whims. The majority of the men in the film are either villainous, or spineless and weak. Count von Meruh is the only decent male and ultimately ends up paying the price for it. Take that, add a few scenes of bodily torment, and what you have is an exploitation film masquerading as European gothic, but despite those specific tropes, Mark of the Devil did well enough financially that a sequel was commissioned, which maintains a religious vibe, retains Reggie Nalder in a different (and again villainous role), and tosses out the rest.

Mark of the Devil was a reactionary film based mostly off the success of 1968's Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price. Though the two films share a similar plot (that of witch-finding/destroying), Mark of the Devil is fine existing in shadow of the former so long as it gets to inflict all kinds of pain against its characters as well as revulsion against its audience.

Upon the film's premiere, sick bags were handed out to theatergoers who were there to see what was being marketed as "positively the most horrifying film ever made," which had been rated "V for violence." What that means in modern speak, by which time films that include a man's penis being bitten off and eaten by piranha have the potential to go theatrical, is that forty years later, it all plays rather tamely. Despite the tongues being ripped out and the bodies being stretched on the rack and the bed of nails poking all the butts, it doesn't quite retain the same amount of shock and horror as it did then. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, since that's not the reason one should go see a film - regardless of it being horror – but that's really all Mark of the Devil had to which it could lay claim at that time. If we're being fair, it was an unoriginal plot conceived by piggy-backing off another infamous horror film (that underwent its own cuts to avoid getting a "V for violence" rating [just kidding, that doesn't exist]), but after all these years, the shock of the "violence" has worn off. Because of that, there’s not much else to carry the film beyond the array of very interesting and memorable performances (the best probably being the absolutely slimy role of Albino by Reggie Nalder).

Obviously, films have no choice, regardless of when they take place, but to reflect the zeitgeist of the times, and Mark of the Devil is no exception. While it was the brutality that drove audiences to see the film after word-of-mouth had begun spreading, it undoubtedly played much differently back then compared to how it plays today. Thankfully, though time has counteracted the appeal it once had, enough was left in place to justify first-timers to give it a chance. Of all the films made during this era, it's more that Mark of the Devil is one of the more infamous rather than the one of the better made, but that's okay. Sometimes that's reason enough.


May 26, 2020

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)


[Spoilers follow.]

Though the remake fad has begun dying down, save for those extremely oddball remakes that are revisiting films previously remade within the window of the 2000s (there's another version of The Thing coming down the pike), titles still occasionally to get the facelift treatment, and when this happens, people never fail to bemoan the unoriginality of Hollywood. Then there are those who are quick to remind all the bellyachers that remakes have been part of the studio system from the very beginning. Vincent Price's most famous film, 1953's House Of Wax, was itself a remake of 1933's Mystery of the Wax Museum, and Humphrey Bogart’s most famous noir film, 1941’s The Maltese Falcon, was the third screen adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel. These defenders will also remind you titles like John Carpenter's The Thing, David Cronenberg's The Fly, and Philip Kaufman's Invasion Of The Body Snatchers—three of the most celebrated genre films of all time—are also, technically, remakes. While that's true, it’s also a disingenuous comparison, being that those particular remakes were born during an era where the originality of the idea was the thing leading the charge, and during a time when studios were more daring and allowed their filmmakers to have more of a voice. Sure, at the end of the day, it's always about making a profit, but there was a time when studios wanted their films to be good and make money, which isn't something that can be said today. Carpenter remaking a film from his idol Howard Hawks or Cronenberg remaking a film known for campiness and infusing it with his infamous penchant for gooey body horror isn't the same thing as picking some guy whose only experience was directing a string of music videos and saying, "I dunno...wanna remake The Hitcher?" Leigh Whannell's update on The Invisible Man, one of many horror films produced by Universal during the 1930s and a proud member of the “Universal Horror Monster Classics," can stand proudly alongside the likes of those maverick filmmakers who spearheaded remakes because of the idea they had, not because it was easy product with street value on which studios could make another quick buck. 

Before sitting down to tackle Whannell's remake of The Invisible Man, I decided to preempt my viewing by giving the 1933 original another go. By doing this, I thought I could refresh my memory on the basic plot, the character constructs, and the trickery involved to see what Whannell had decided to borrow versus discard. Well, besides the basic concept and the name "Griffin" (along with a loving nod to Claude Rains' bandage-wrapped face from the original), Whannell's script isn't a lazy rehash. It's an entirely new take on the property, as well as the concept, updated with gusto for the tech-savvy generation as well as containing a respectful adoption of the long-in-the-making #MeToo movement. With the modern update being about a victimized woman named Cecilia (Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss) fleeing from her abusive partner, Adrian Griffin (The Haunting Of Hill House's Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night in pure fear, as well as later disclosing the awful treatment she endured at his brute hands and emotionally manipulative mind, it's hard not to make the connection. Indeed, from the film's opening moments, and performed in total silence without the use of dialogue, how Whannell films and cuts around Cecilia's MacGuyver-ish premeditated escape from their palatial, oceanside estate, the suspense is already mounting, even though we have only just met these characters, and are, so far, lacking any kind of background or history on who these people are or what their dynamic is. All we know, based on Cecilia's extreme apprehensive sneaking and her weary looks at Adrian's sleeping form, is that whatever's happened to her over the course of months or years is very, very bad.


From then, as Cecilia attempts to rebuild her life and disclose to her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer) and friend James (Aldis Hodge), who has invited her into his home to allow her time to recover from her ordeal, the awful things she's experienced while living with Adrian, they are, understandably, sympathetic. However, in that perfectly ironic horror-movie vindictiveness, when Cecilia begins to suspect that Adrian, who is later said to be deceased following a suicide, begins stalking her, somehow, in an unseen, invisible form, of course no one believes her. She's been through a lot, after all—walked away from a poisonous,  "narcissistic sociopath" who'd shattered her psyche with physical, emotional, and sexual abuse—so her claims of an invisible stalker are dismissed as signs of post-traumatic stress. And at first, Whannell is wise to keep the unseen Adrian as nothing more than paranoid glances down empty hallways or corners, and not always from Cecilia's point of view, but often from that of the audience. The camera will sometimes aimlessly drift away from her, Taxi Driver-style, as she busies herself on a laptop, or leaves the room to call James' daughter, Sidney (Storm Reid) for breakfast, and as the audience's point of view lingers on nothing at all, the longer that camera lingers, the more we begin to question if Cecilia has actually been through a lot, or if there is something to her claims. This misdirection never lets up, however, and after it's revealed that Cecilia's not crazy—that her genius-minded, optics tech guru former lover has, indeed, somehow constructed a way to go unseen, that paranoia of "is she crazy?" becomes replaced with a new paranoia: "is she ever going to be safe?"

Whannell began his directorial life with Insidious: Chapter Three, an uneven film that still managed to improve on its series' immediate predecessor, before moving onto the techno punk cult classic Upgrade, which saw his skills as a director with a confident style and singular vision improve with drastic results. And now, The Invisible Man sees him at the height of his still newborn directorial career, as he's enjoying the same better-and-better trajectory previously employed by John Carpenter, whose consecutive run of Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13, and Halloween easily showed the evolution of a director honing his craft. (As of this writing, Whannell is tapped to update Carpenter's Escape From New York, a remake that's been circulating the Hollywood system for almost a decade; if someone has to do it, I'm relieved it's him.) Horror directors can show you every ghastly, bloody, dripping image they can concoct, as it doesn't take much imagination to think of something that falls within the confines of the generic term "scary." What Whannell does, instead—knowing that his movie maniac is an atypical antagonist in that there's no dripping-faced specter or Halloween-costumed killer to constantly show lurking in the dark or on the other side of the door—is rely on what doesn't appear to be there at all, even though we all know better. Whannell can somehow turn a long shot of a skillet with simmering eggs and bacon or an Uber driver taking WAY TOO FUCKING LONG to turn his SUV around into something that preys on the audience's nerves. It's scary when we can see the killer chasing the potential victim, but it's scarier when we can't, because the indication of said victim's proximity to danger is being withheld from us. We simply don't know where Adrian is any more than Cecilia does. 


It's seldom that we see Elisabeth Moss take on this kind of role in such a mainstream film; though the character of Cecilia echoes that of what we've seen from her in her two most high-profile roles in Mad Men and The Handmaid's Tale, in that Cecilia is both an embodiment of the ornamental but dismissible girl living under oppressive environments even after she seemingly escapes from her white-collar prison. Not only that, she's tasked with applying those traits to the more commonly known genre archetype of "the final girl." Seeing her find her "voice" (so to speak) halfway through the film once she's confined to a state hospital, it's hard not to envision Whannell being inspired by another of cinema's most beloved and well-known female bad-asses: that of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the Terminator series. Once Cecilia begins taking back her life from Adrian by drawing him out of the invisible shadows utilizing his one weakness, Cecilia embraces her inner Sarah Connor. That her confinements are similar to the brightly lit, sterile environments of Pescadaro State Hospital in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (and especially once the invisible threat begins massacring the hospital’s security staff one by one a la the police station shootout from The Terminator) was either a happy accident or a knowing inspiration, and a nod to the cinematic femmes who forged the path Cecilia has made it her mission to walk.

If the dissolving of Universal Studios' previous plan for their Dark Universe, thanks to Tom Cruise's hilariously stupid take on The Mummy, is what led to Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man, then I can only be grateful. And I can only hope that Universal has taken adequate notes and will be applying the so-far successful micro-budget Blumhouse approach to all the horror properties they plan on updating: find a talented filmmaker, give them free reign to make a horror film that respects those 1930s classics, and stay out of their way. Like this new iteration of The Invisible Man, it has the potential to gift the audience with a new string of feisty, smart horror films that they never saw coming.



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Apr 9, 2020

JIGSAW (2017)


Remember the old days when your friend would call you up when all those Saw sequels were hitting theaters and there was absolutely no way he/she could ascertain your interest in seeing it other than asking you flat out, “Wanna go see-Saw this weekend?”

Pretty funny, huh?

Well, there’s nothing funny about how bad Jigsaw is.

How’s that for a lead-in?

Though one could argue this about most horror franchises, Saw did not need to spawn any sequels, let alone seven — especially after having KILLED its main villain back during the fourth entry (and for real-killed, not Freddy Krueger-killed). The series managed to continue heavily involving Jigsaw himself, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), through the use of flashbacks, disembodied voices, and his “disciples.” If you’re lucky enough to have never seen most of this series, yes, it’s as stupid and tedious and very very unrealistic as it sounds.


As a loyal horror fan, the first Saw’s legend preceded it, as it had raised quite the stink at various film festivals, and I was in attendance opening weekend for its wide release. And it was…alright. It was over-directed by a clearly energetic James Wan, whose style would thankfully mellow as he found his footing in later films, and the well-executed twist ending was slick enough that it helped you to forgive how very silly it was.

A practice I’ve since grown out of, I would later hate-watch parts 2-4 before absolutely giving up for good, realizing I was only harming my brain and could better spend my time watching Dead Silence again. I’m only noting all this so it’s clear that I have absolutely no understanding of what goes on in Saws 5-7, though I imagine it involves Person A getting their toe cut off while Person B looks on and throws up on Person C, who is a jerk.

Jigsaw was proclaimed by its producers as being a radical reinvention of the series, but even based on my limited exposure to and utter impatience with the sequels, anyone can see that this seems to be more of the same old thing: heavy-handed posturing about morality while inflicting ghastly torture things on people who deserve it. Nu metal soundtrack, a foot falls off, twist, fin.


Though he’s not a gigantic name by any stretch, it’s still a shame to see Callum Keith Rennie appearing in this kind of garbage, considering he’s done solid work in the past, somewhat recently on David Duchvovy’s Californication and Netflix’s Longmire. Frankly, he’s the only person in this thing who offers a performance worth mentioning. Of course Tobin Bell appears, somehow (have fun figuring out how, ha ha!), though most of his presence comes through the use of audio recordings that he’s very very very strategically hidden around his barn of horrors.

Frankly, if you were on board with the entire Saw series to date, you’ll probably be on board with this one as well, as there doesn’t seem to be too much innovation going on. It even concludes with the same kind of twist that chronologically backtracks and shows you what really happened — executed in such a rapid manner that you get the indication the filmmakers want to get the whole thing over with before you have time to realize you could absolutely drive a tanker truck of liquid nitrogen through its many severe gaps in logic and plot holes.

Sadly, Jigsaw was huge at the box office, which led to the admittedly wacky-sounding sequel Spiral: From the Book of Saw, somehow written by Chris Rock and somehow starring Rock and Samuel L. Jackson. Though that odd development makes the forthcoming sequel the most intriguing entry in this series since the very first film, this series has also taken up far too much valuable Halloween real estate. I yearn for the days when John Kramer stays dead for real, allowing new ideas to flourish over October weekends.


Mar 31, 2020

C.H.U.D. (1984)


C.H.U.D. feels like a long-lost film from Larry Cohen, who made a career from writing and directing horror and exploitation films set and shot in his native New York. From the Maniac Cop trilogy to Q: The Winged Serpent, Cohen willfully and gleefully captured his city not in any kind of artificial, idealized way, but in the way she actually was then, that is to say…not the kind of place you ♥. Cohen was one of the many attendees of the now-legendary 42nd Street Theater — the planet’s most famous grindhouse theater — which often showed double-bills of the same questionable films he would later grow up to make, and which also inspired Tarantino and Rodriquez to completely misinterpret those films’ appeal when they made their bloated and masturbatory opus Grindhouse.

Even though Cohen had absolutely nothing to do with C.H.U.D., his fingerprints are somehow all over it. With a credited screenplay by Parnell Hall (over Shepard Abbot and actors Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry, who rewrote 50% of the script but received no credit) and directed by Douglas Cheek, C.H.U.D. fits right in with the late ’70s/’80s filmography of Cohen, William Lustig (Maniac), Frank Henenlotter (the Basket Case trilogy), and other New York-based horror filmmakers used to working with low budgets. C.H.U.D. is not only a New York-set story, but its plot/conflict directly addresses an existing problem that the city was suffering with at the time, and likely still is: the staggering amount of homeless people living on and below the streets. C.H.U.D., the silly monster movie about silly looking monsters killing people, and about whom no city officials give a shit, actually has something prescient to say. Unfolding like a budget version of JAWS, C.H.U.D. presents a group of men, some already friendly and some not, who come together to confront the growing threat plaguing their city, even as city officials dismiss their concerns, nearly collapsing the heroes’ campaign in the typical amount of bureaucracy.


Because of this, C.H.U.D. is kind of an ugly film, aesthetically, to look at. Much of the action takes place in underground “caves” below the city, the sewers, soup kitchens, and queasy looking tenement buildings. Even certain scenes, like George (John Heard) and Lauren’s (Kim Greist) apartment, or park exteriors, exude a certain dinginess. C.H.U.D. is a bland looking movie with little dynamism, but that was the point.

For what it is, C.H.U.D. is decently scripted, acted, and assembled, and the monsters’ designs — though later disparaged by the cast — are fun for what they are, and indicative of the decade during which C.H.U.D. was made. Glowing eyes, slimy mouths, and rubber everything, C.H.U.D. was both a callback to the radiation scare films of the 1950s as well as a comment on the then-culture of New York City. It doesn’t exactly unfold at a clip, choosing to establish intrigue and mystery instead of monster hands ripping off human heads (even though that happens), and it’s for this reason that it might not hold an interest for viewers who have yet to have the pleasure. But for those who appreciate a grimy New York horror romp, rubber monster movies, and subtly clever satire, say it with me: C.H.U.D.!


If you decide to add C.H.U.D. to your film library, or if you already own a copy but haven’t yet had the pleasure, I can’t implore you enough to listen to the audio commentary with director Douglas Cheek, writer Shepard Abbott, and actors John Heard, Daniel Stern and Christopher Curry. Because this is the greatest commentary that’s ever been recorded for any film. I’ve long championed this commentary to any film fan who would give half a damn while stressing that there’s no way it doesn’t improve your life. Seriously, it’s great, and everything a commentary should be: it’s enthusiastic, it’s hilarious, it’s informative, but most importantly, it’s honest. This is the most honest audio commentary track you will ever hear — from cast member Daniel Stern booing the name of the credited screenwriter (who is not Shepard Abbot) during the opening credits and adding “that’s BULLSHIT,” to the derision of the final monster designs, which clashes with the original intention of making them more human. (“They look stupid!”) The commentary opens with what sounds like a somewhat drunken voice saying, “Well, yeah, I’m John Heard, I’m in C.H.U.D., and that’s…all there is to it.” Towards the end, Daniel Stern randomly comments on his dirtied character’s appearance as being a “werewolf Bob Dylan,” leading Christopher Curry to totally freestyle an uncanny Bob Dylan impression, turning the film’s action into observational song lyrics, with rhymes and all. No shitting, it’s one of my favorite all-time things. (The track also appears on the newest Blu-ray release from Arrow Video.) 

C.H.U.D. shouldn’t be mistaken for being among the best of the ’80s, but it’s certainly admirable and provides a bit of fun. It’s a decent throwback to an earlier era of the genre (and it’s so old that the decade during which it was made has recently become a focal point for a whole new crop of throwback horror films — Jesus, I am old!), and could easily be appreciated by devotees of the low budget New York horror scene. 

And if you need a bit more convincing, just remember: he’s John Heard, he’s in C.H.U.D., and that’s…all there is to it.


Mar 5, 2020

THE SHALLOWS (2016)


During 1999, there was one title in particular at the Sundance Film Festival that had people abuzz: The Blair Witch Project. The cheap and independently produced film made by a bunch of kids with very little experience managed to scare the hell out of attending critics and set off a bidding war by several major studios before mini-distributor Artisan Entertainment (now defunct and owned by Lionsgate Films) became the victor. The rest, as they say, is history. Not only did The Blair Witch Project change the way filmmakers approached the medium, it also added a new kind of film for which potential distributors should look — the cheaply produced thriller that, with clever marketing, had the power to be immensely profitable with little risk. Every year following, people were on the lookout for the next Blair Witch

In 2003, the same thing occurred at Sundance, only this film was Open Water, another cheaply and independently produced film made by inexperienced filmmakers with no-name actors. Based on a true story (unlike The Blair Witch Project, which only pretended to be), Open Water depicted a couple left behind in the middle of the ocean during a vacation scuba-diving trip, only to be slowly surrounded by sharks. While it didn’t capture the attention of the masses in the same way its witchy predecessor did, it still managed to make a splash with critics, who praised the film’s ingenuity and creativity in the face of budgetary restrictions. (Real sharks too, by the way — in the same water as the actors.)


And then along came The Reef several years later. The Australian production was a slicker product with a slightly higher budget, but also basically the same thing: shipwrecked people surrounded by sharks, each dying off one by one. It was an effective little number, even if the concept was a little less novel. (If we want to credit a sole inspiration for all of these sharks vs. people conflicts in modern cinema, maybe we can point to Quint’s stirring and still-famous U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue from JAWS.)

And this has led to The Shallows, which, again, explores the concept of one person being trapped in the middle of the ocean by a monstrous shark that WILL eat her, even IF there’s a giant whale just a few feet away that it could eat instead. (Sharks like whale meat so much that mass feedings have turned into orgies—just sayin'.) But instead of the independently produced version of this concept with a realistic and downbeat finale, The Shallows is very Hollywood, sticking the beautiful Blake Lively in a tight wetsuit, tighter bikini, and pitting her against an unrealistically behaving CGI shark. Along the way she becomes friends with a bird, talks to herself a lot, and manages to pull off the impossible, which I can’t expound upon without getting into spoiler territory.


As dumb as that all sounds (and it is dumb), The Shallows is easy entertainment and exactly the kind of film it set out to be. The film’s marketing was quick to liken it to this generation’s JAWS and that’s kind of accurate, except it’s essentially a feature length version of JAWS' final five minutes made for the instagram generation. When theaters were flooded with multi Saws and Hostels, the term “torture porn” was coined (but used incorrectly as often as “hipster” is today); spinning off from that, The Shallows is basically shark porn: camera close-ups of Blake Lively’s flawlessly toned and tanned body, intercut with ominous underwater shots or dark silhouettes housed in waves signifying the presence of a shark. “Did you see that?” audience members likely asked and pointed to the shadow in the wave. But no, the glimpse is gone; now it’s back to a close-up of Lively’s bikinied bottom, or side-breast, or tropical ocean water dripping off her blonde hair. It’s absurd and not exactly subtle; again, it’s easy entertainment, at which director Jaume Collett-Sera excels. Vaulted into the game following his better-than-expected horror film Orphan, this is the kind of playground where he’s best utilized. 

Amidst all the unnecessary and already dated speed-ramping, there are moments of genuine effectiveness, generally when Blake Lively’s Nancy is getting beaten up by the ocean. And this sounds like mockery, but it’s not; as she’s taken by the tide and rolled over sharp coral on the ocean floor, or during the first shark attack sequence, you imagine you’re feeling her pain. You cringe at the sight and your body tenses as if you’re about to feel shark teeth in your leg. Collett-Serra knows what he’s doing, even if he chooses to do it for concepts that are about 90% close to being real, actual films. And sequences like these are strikingly realized — especially the before mentioned initial shark attack.


Despite the modern age's well established dependence on CGI, the shark looks terrible. The dummy version is obviously a dummy, and the CGI version is more obviously CGI. They must know this, as the shark only features on screen for maybe less than a minute, with the usual fin and shadow shots doing much of the heavy lifting. Every appearance of the CGI shark is distracting. Because the audience (hopefully) knows the filmmakers didn’t use a real great white shark (they don’t take well to animal training, in case you never knew that), they immediately look to deduce “the trick”—to determine the “how did they do that?” of it all. Well, the answer is easy: computers. And from the looks of it, quickly, and on the cheap.

The Sci-Fi/Syfy Channel, especially their grating and brainless Sharknado films, have done enough damage to the killer shark sub-genre that The Shallows actually manages to leave a not-so-sour taste in your mouth as the credits roll. It’s popcorn entertainment at its truest definition, but sometimes a little popcorn is okay. Lively actually puts a lot of effort into what must have been a physically strenuous role, and the crew deserves accolades for filming almost exclusively on the ocean, which is extremely difficult just from a logistical standpoint. The Shallows won’t make you forget JAWS or Open Water, but it’s certainly better than Deep Blue Sea and Shark Night, and in the age of Sharknado and Mega-Shark versus Roger Corman, I’ll take it.


Feb 22, 2020

COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)


Outside of “Rats in the Walls” and “Herbert West: Re-Animator,” I’ve never read anything by H.P. Lovecraft because my simpleton brain won’t process his era-specific writing style. Oddly, my education of what a Lovecraft story entails comes not from the man himself, but through other artists homaging his work, like John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness or several of Stuart Gordon’s films, including From Beyond. One thing among them all remained consistent: Lovecraft writes of slimy, distorted, indescribable monstrosities from other worlds—both in a sci-fi sense and a more generally horrific one. 

Because of this, I had no real idea what to expect as I sat down to watch Color Out of Space, which is not just Nicolas Cage’s latest foray into the horror genre following the astounding Mandy, but which also hails the return of celebrated cult director Richard Stanley after a twenty-year absence(!) from feature filmmaking. Except for a quiet and low-key documentary about mysticism and inter-dimensional travel called The Otherworld, the last time anyone saw the mythical South African filmmaker was as the subject of Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley's Island Of Dr. Moreau, which, if you haven’t seen it, holy shit—do it. Stanley isn’t known to the mainstream, having made films that are quiet and very unique, like Dust Devil (compromised for a long time by the Weinsteins) and Hardware, recently released exclusively on Blu-ray from Ronin Flix. Stanley’s films have their own look and feel, which is what makes Color Out of Space both comfortably familiar and surprisingly nuanced. 

One night, as the Gardner family disperses throughout the house for some alone time, a meteorite crash-lands on the front lawn of their isolated country home. Though it’s never made clear, this meteorite contains a radioactive or intergalactic element that causes nearby vegetation to double or triple its size, along with insects and reptiles who begin sporting wild, neon colors. Lastly, its exposure to human beings begins to change them in different ways, physically or mentally, eventually leading to the Gardner family’s deconstruction in weird and wild ways, including a scene with the family matriarch (Joely Richardson) cutting carrots in the kitchen that you’ll never be able to unsee.


Based on the first act alone, and outside of your usual number of eccentricities we’ve come to expect from Cage, Color Out of Space almost comes across as…normal. And measured. Certainly not the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Cage or Stanley. But don’t worry: neither of them have refuted their aesthetics. The two join forces to bring to life a wild flick that begins with calmness draped over slight family dysfunction and soon boils over into gooey, alien terror and the kind of psychological breakdown of which only Cage is capable. Very successfully, Color Out of Space maintains Lovecraft’s consistent juxtaposition between creepy monsters, who physically come into being, and the broken mind of the character being haunted by them—either the kind of mind that’s already broken and unveils an unseen world of monsters, or the kind of mind that breaks once this veil is peeled back. Here, physical and psychological terror go hand in hand, and there hasn’t been a marriage this strong since the first act of David Cronenberg’s directorial career.

Despite the craziness of the synopsis, Color Out of Space unfolds at a leisurely pace, so if by now its Twitter reputation has preceded itself, it would be best for viewers to settle into the movie and expect something measured and patient, rather than something that goes instantly wacky. Like the literature it’s honoring, Color Out of Space reveals one piece at a time. Along with being measured, Color Out of Space is also ambitious. Stanley and co. clearly didn’t have a very large budget, but their sprawling story feels bigger than life. The CGI effects look damn good and comparable to what you’d see in modern theaters, and because they are particularly placed throughout the script, the scope feels bigger in recollection. Along with the CGI, though, are the practical effects, and they are remarkable, with one bit in particular being downright John Carpenter’s The Thingian. Stanley’s direction is assured, and even beautiful, but he always remains true to his aesthetic, which makes Color Out Of Space feel dreamy and strange, and, thankfully happening to someone else


By now, Cage’s presence in films like this draw a certain appeal. Known as an operatic performer for his entire career, it’s always the horror and sci-fi genres that yield some of his most interesting work, and it’s thanks to the genres’ complete lack of boundaries. There are no rules, which means artists can go as big as they want and embrace the wackiest of ideas. An unrestrained Cage is the best kind of Cage, but that’s not to say that his performance here consists of his usual level of freak-out scenes (there are a handful of these, though, and they’re glorious). An unrestrained Cage also gleefully embraces the strange and quirky, which no one does better. In a really brief moment during the first act where Cage openly lambastes his hard-to-please deceased father, he slides into an overly pretentious voice (resurrecting the one he used as Peter Loew in the batty Vampire’s Kiss) and begins to mimic some of his father’s dismissive words used toward him over the years. What seems like a throwaway scene of character development comes back later with really interesting implications, in that, as “the color” starts to infect both the landscape of the family home and the family themselves, Cage slips in and out of this pretentious voice in the heights of his mania, subtly suggesting that his internal hatred for his father is not just beginning to manifest, but that he’s actually turning into his father. Ezra (Tommy Chong), a squatter who lives on the Gardner estate, is the one who observes that the “color” infecting the land has the power to upend everything—to take one thing and transform it into its utter opposite. At least as far as Cage’s character is concerned, he’s slowly turning into what he hates most.

Color Out of Space looks excellent on the 4K UHD release, obviously coming to life during the flick’s more mystical moments. “The color” permeates the screen during several moments throughout, replicating beautifully in high definition. Dialogue is cleanly presented and marries well with the ambience of the family’s isolated farmhouse. The interesting musical score by Colin Stetson, who had previously scored another horror hit, Ari Aster’s Hereditary, also fits in well to the soundscape and helps to heighten the strange new world of the Gardner farm.


After a shaky start, RLJE has been consistently acquiring interesting genre titles, especially over the last couple years, having given a home to the likes of Mandy, Gwen, and The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot. Unfortunately, their physical releases hardly overwhelm with supplemental content. That’s the case here as well, as this release offers only a trailer, a photo gallery (which I don’t think anyone ever looks at), and a twenty-minute “making-of” that catches input from all the film’s major participants, charting the production from the script all the way to post-production. There’s no commentary track with the director or a one-on-one interview, which is a shame given Stanley’s long absence from filmmaking (which, to the making-of’s credit, is briefly covered). I’m sure he’s spent a long time thinking about what his next project was going to be, and that he’s got a lot to say about it, but you’re not going to find that kind of deep-dive here. Having said that, eight-year-old Julian Hilliard (The Haunting of Hill House), who plays Cage’s youngest son, calls Color Out of Space “the best movie in history,” and how can you argue with that?

Fans of Lovecraft, Nicolas Cage, or Richard Stanley would be missing out if they didn’t check out Color Out of Space. Now that Stanley is “back,” he’s been thinking about the future, which is all Lovecraft all the time. Continuing his partnership with SpectreVision (the distribution company co-owned by Elijah Wood and which produced Color Out of Space), Stanley plans to revisit the Lovecraft landscape in an ongoing, shared universe of the author’s most celebrated titles, with the next being The Dunwich Horror. Based on Color Out of Space, I’m eager to see what else Stanley has up his sleeve. 

Welcome back, sir. You were missed.


[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Feb 16, 2020

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)


I can absolutely understand why the people who love Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise also love Drag Me to Hell. Following that first 1981 trip within the woods, which was gunning for a solely scary experience, the audience’s unexpected laughter-ridden response led the rest of the Evil Dead franchise down a path more focused on “spook o blast” slapstick horror-humor. Even Raimi’s cult favorite Darkman, which was equal parts horror, action, and superhero movie, displayed the same kind of manic execution, very icky set-pieces, and a frenetic and unhinged sense of humor. If it weren’t for his extremely undervalued 2001 ghost story The Gift, which was a straight, dark, and humorless horror/thriller, I would say that Raimi was neither interested in nor had the confidence to make a genre pic where he couldn’t rely on silliness and buckets of slime. That The Gift didn’t make any money might have been the last reason Raimi needed to leave serious horror behind as a director.

If Drag Me to Hell has somehow eluded you all these years, yet you adore the Evil Dead series, then this movie is for you. It contains all the stalwarts of that franchise, but this time in a gussied-up mainstream flick starring the pretty Alison Lohman and the prettier Justin Long. Everything else remains the same: goo, slime, goo-slime, slimy goo, and screaming. The spectre of the dead gypsy (Lorna Raver) constantly shows up either in ghostly form or corpse form and manages to projectile vomit all manner of foul things directly into Lohman’s mouth: maggots, corpse slime, embalming fluid (I think), entrails, and more. Drag Me to Hell is 90 minutes of nasty shit being gooed into an unwilling mouth, and right around the time Lohman drops an anvil on the head of the gypsy, which causes both the spectre’s eyes AND more black goo to fire into her mouth, you start to wonder what on earth you're doing with your time. (The operatic musical score by go-to horror composer Christopher Young, however, is the tops.)


I’m going to be pretty blunt: I hate Drag Me to Hell. I hated it in theaters ten years ago, and this opportunity to revisit the film hasn’t yielded any less hate. Years before The Evil Dead returned in the form of the new-ish Starz series, fans moaned that Raimi was dragging his feet on making Evil Dead IV, and Drag Me to Hell seemed like a direct response to that. “Give the people goo!” he probably bellowed. Because the similarities are profound: people are possessed, causing them to float and make scary faces and speak in terrible demon voices; more goo, more blood; even a terrible CGI goat comes to angry life at some point, mimicking the laughing and squealing animal heads from Evil Dead 2. There’d be absolutely no mistaking Drag Me to Hell as anything other than a Sam Raimi movie (although, while his Oldsmobile appears, Bruce Campbell doesn’t). It’s absolutely cut from the same cloth as Evil Dead 2 and especially Army of Darkness. If you’re someone like me who doesn’t particularly care for either of those, then you must run, screaming, from Drag Me to Hell. But if you're someone who does love the latter half of the Evil Dead franchise, open your mouths and prepare for goo slime.





Jan 1, 2020

JANUARY IS SLASHUARY


The slasher sub-genre is one of my favorite things, and has been since I was a wee one. It was my first foot in the door of the horror genre, and some of the most famous movie maniacs in history – Jason, Michael, Freddy, and more – were there to usher me, smacking my fanny as I passed them because it’s all in good fun. As time went on, I put away this slasher love for a little bit, only breaking it out every so often when the mood struck. (The Friday the 13th and Halloween series got routine play, though. To me, they were in a class all their own.)

As I became a so-called adult, and as the time seems to click louder and louder, I, like everyone else, have been looking fondly back on the 1980s – the allegedly last time it was fully pure to be an American, when things seemed just fine, and everyone was dancing to the first round of synth pop, driving their friends to the beach in a Jeep, and living life with no consequences whatsoever. 

Among these ‘80s memories is the slasher. And man, there’s just nothing like an ‘80s slasher. The sensibilities of that magical decade were like no other, and no decade since has come close to replicating it. The ‘80s meant excess, in every regard: hair got higher, clothes got bigger and brighter, music was faster. Even the drugs were in a hurry. 

As time goes on, it’s become a personal crusade to see every single slasher movie that hails from the ‘80s, from the ones that are clearly slashers to the ones that border the sub-genre while injecting its own distinct sensibilities. Sci-fi, action, mystery, demons, monsters – if teenage bodies are dropping, and if their hair is huge, I’m in. 

So come with me as we celebrate Slashuary – an entire January dedicated to the ‘80s slasher (mostly). Days will alternate between reviews for obscure slashers along with some of my favorite all-time slasher posters, even if they're for movies that kinda suck. Of the titles to appear all month, there will be some good, some not so good, but hey, we’ll be together, and that’s all that matters. 

Dec 26, 2019

AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING (2017)



Oh, the Amityville Horror series. How many of you are there now? Eleven? Twelve? Way more if we count all those bogus distributors legally exploiting the “Amityville” name?

And how many of you are actually “good”?

Counting the 1976 original…not a one. And Amityville: The Awakening definitely isn’t going to change that.

Amityville: The Awakening began life way back in 2011 as Amityville: The Lost Tapes, a Paranormal Activity-ish take on the most marquee-famous haunted house horror series there is. This version ultimately didn’t come together and was heavily revised; ditching the script and concept in favor of something more traditional, Maniac remake director Franck Khalfoun pretty much started from scratch. What resulted was something definitely traditional — in fact, too traditional — resulting in a very standard haunted house chiller.


Khalfoun gets absolute credit for at least introducing a novel concept into the Amtityville mythos — even if it’s a riff on the Australia ‘70s chiller Patrick — in the form of a comatose member of the family who may or may not be invaded by the evil spirits of 112 Ocean Avenue. Khalfoun also attempts to softly “reboot” the Amityville name by acknowledging the existence of The Amityville Horror franchise as simply that — DVDs for a handful of the original films (and the remake, which “sucks”) make cameos — and this feels clever and necessary for about two seconds until you realize that Amityville: The Awakening is going to hit all the same beats those previous films did, anyway, right down to how the original and the remake conclude.

Four years ago, the concept of Blumhouse and Jennifer Jason Leigh collaborating on a micro-budget take on The Amityville Horror would have been a cause for excitement, but the finished product lacks the ingenuity and eye for creative talent that Blumhouse has brought to previous productions. And poor Jennifer Jason Leigh is totally wasted in the “mom” role (and you can tell she’s not into it), while real lead Bella Thorne’s atrocious acting only moderately improves when she’s walking around her creepy old house with no pants on, or doing her biology homework with no pants on, or putting her baby sister to bed with no pants on. (And for the nth time in movies like this, her character is a pariah at school and referred to as “freaky girl,” even though Thorne is absolutely gorgeous.)

Moments meant to spur horror are instead hilariously over the top and only effective in causing bursts of laughter — the film gets its creepiest mileage by having Cameron Monaghan, who plays the comatose veggie, lay in a hospital bed with his creepy unblinking eyes wide open and staring. Following all the DOA jump scares, snippets of profanity-spewing demons, and wondering what on earth Kurtwood Smith is doing here, you, too, will want to put this Amityville house back on the market as soon as possible.


Dec 24, 2019

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)


My first encounter with Black Christmas was under the wrong circumstances. After having gone through a slam-viewing of My Bloody Valentine, Don’t Open Till Christmas, and Happy Birthday to Me, I ventured into Black Christmas expecting more of the same — entertaining murder sequences, silly killer and character motivations, and that late ’70s/’80s sense of fun that seemed to be missing from more modern horror.

That didn’t happen.

As Black Christmas played on, I continued to anticipate schlock to hit the screen, but all this goodkept getting in the way. Instead of exaggerated characters and head-fall-off murders, I kept getting subtle, eerie, and even disturbing scenes, one after the other — and, when mixed together, they were forming something…yeah, good. Great even. I expected coal and instead I got a bonafide present.

Merry Christmas!


From the director of A Christmas Story and Porky’s comes an unlikely and effective horror film made by a director whom one would assume had spent his entire career working in the horror genre. But he was a director who worked in only two genres, horror and comedy, and that makes sense when you realize that the two are more alike than they are different — mostly because they both live and die by their sense of timing.

Black Christmas is more of an Agatha Christie mystery filtered through the sensibilities of a slasher than something more traditional (even though the slasher as a concept was still in its infancy at that time).  The murders are there, of course, and they’re certainly grisly, but a lot of emphasis is made on the who of it all. Who is this person who continues to call and sexually harass the girls, saying the most awful things, but while also referring to himself in the third person as Billy? Added to that is an almost supernatural sense to his presence, in that Billy seems to be having entire conversations with more than one person on his end of the phone — so much that they manage to overlap each other Exorcist style.

Above all, Black Christmas is eerie across the board — from the opening titles set to “Silent Night” to the disturbing phone calls to the unsettling murder sequences. A dead girl with a bag tied to her face sitting unseen behind an attic window is still one of the eeriest images ever birthed from the genre, and this in a low budget slasher that recently turned 40 years old.


For years an urban legend about Black Christmas has circulated the net involving its much more famous slasher sister, Halloween. The legend suggests that Bob Clark and John Carpenter knew each other personally, and had even begun collaborating on a possible project together that Carpenter would write and Clark would direct — a Black Christmas sequel, which saw Billy escaping from a mental institution and wreaking havoc in a small suburban town. Allegedly this collaboration fell apart, yada yada yada, and then Carpenter made Halloween. Mind you, this legend wasn’t chatter on IMDB message boards, but was being perpetuated by Clark himself. Carpenter has gone on record for years refuting this story, stating that conversations with Clark in any kind of professional or collaborating manner never happened, even later describing Black Christmas as “how not to make a horror movie.”

While Halloween being Black Christmas 2 is a dubious claim to begin with, especially when you take into consideration that Carpenter was actually provided for the basic story details for Halloween by its eventual producer Irwin Yablans, the similarities between the two films can’t be dismissed. The unseen killer stalking a group of teenagers on a major holiday is enough to get us started, but even the films share a similar opening sequence — from the point of view of the killer, the audience, seeing through his eyes, creeps around a house looking through windows before entering, unseen, to commit a grisly murder. (The optimistic way to come away from all this second-guessing is that we’ve got not just one but two holiday-themed horror classics to enjoy over and over, so let’s maybe move on.)


Black Christmas isn’t obvious programming for the holiday season — not just because young people being picked off one by one seems like an odd choice for celebrating Santa’s coming — but because of the deeply disturbing undertones about the killer’s history which suggests familial physical and possibly sexual abuse, which has left him with a damaged psyche and severe issues with the opposite sex. But, subject matter aside, Black Christmas is a very well made and eerie little horror number with an undeniably wintry aesthetic. (Thanks, Canada!) During the Christmas season, some households put on Clark’s own 24 hours of A Christmas Story or throw in their DVDs of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (or Die Hard!), but for the more…adventurous of us, Black Christmas feels right at home. Take note, however, that along with its jolly-less tone, Black Christmas isn’t a very pretty looking production. Low budget and not particularly colorful, the film is dark and dour, taking place mostly at night in dim interiors. If you're the type to wander around the house depressed on Christmas, like me, Black Christmas will suit your festivities just fine.

Cinephiles and genre buffs who enjoy counter-programming come the holiday probably have a whole list of Christmas-themed horror that gets frequent yearly play. For me, Black Christmas is one that gets a heavy rotation in my house during those yuletide months. (Because yes, in America, Christmas lasts from end of October to mid-January.) And it’s not just because Black Christmas is holiday-themed, but because it’s a tremendous and sometimes overlooked horror classic that never loses its ability to unnerve. How a static shot of a house set to a traditional recording of a choir singing “Silent Night” can be effortlessly eerie is — much like the unseen killer — a complete mystery, but Bob Clark managed to fill Black Christmas with little moments like this, giving it an undeniable ability to set its audience at unease. 


Dec 21, 2019

RED CHRISTMAS (2016)


Red Christmas, right off the bat, is intent on establishing that it’s not going to be like other holiday-themed slashers that have come before. It’s not the fun, spook show experience that Halloween perfected, and it’s certainly not the no-brained, silly affair like Silent Night, Deadly Night. More closely aligned with Black Christmas in terms of mood and bleakness, but absolutely still inspired by the ‘80s slasher movement based on the graphic and icky murder sequences, Red Christmas cannot be easily categorized. Any horror film that opens within an abortion clinic in the midst of an attack from Christian fundamentalists in which a fetus thought aborted is tossed in a bucket and kicked in a corner, only to reach up a tiny bloody hand to signify that it still lives, isn’t looking to entertain its audience with LOLs.

Despite setting what is essentially slasher film on a holiday and giving it a typically ironic title, Red Christmas is actually based on a pretty original premise, and stocked with characters you wouldn’t necessarily see in a film like this: one of the siblings is pregnant, another is adopted, another is very buttoned-up and married to a priest, and one has down syndrome. And what a fine dysfunctional family they make. But holding it together is America’s favorite genre mother, Dee Wallace, most famous for Momming it in E.T., Cujo, Critters, The Hills Have Eyes, and… Rob Zombie’s Halloween (boo-hiss). Enjoying the rare leading role, Wallace embraces the lunatic concept of Red Christmas to maximum effect, earning the audience’s sympathy not just because of her awful, squabbling family, but because of the past that comes back to haunt her.


Red Christmas can be fun at times, but deeply upsetting at others, and so many taboos are broken that it’s easy to wonder how anyone with a conscious could enjoy the film at all. And while Red Christmas is hard to watch, it oddly satisfies in that way only an ‘80s slasher could, while also going for the jugular a bit more feverishly.

Writer/director Craig Anderson’s Suspiria-inspired lighting scheme dazzles and adds to the uniqueness of Red Christmas, bathing several environments in red and green, giving it both your typical holiday look but also making everything feel off and unsettling.

Red Christmas has flaws, to be sure, but its daringness to break taboos and to be utterly bleak by its end make up for them. It has brains (for once), heart (though it wants to break yours), and it certainly has spirit. It’s one of the most unique horror films of the year, but one that’s also a tough watch. Be sure that you’re ready.

Know before going in that Red Christmas might show a familiar face and a well-worn concept, but it’s not your typical slasher flick. Much more intent on upsetting rather than amusing, Red Christmas is definitely what a horror film should be: unique, uncomfortable, and at times difficult to watch. 

Dec 18, 2019

BETTER WATCH OUT (2016)


Better Watch Out is a surprise in more way than one — not just how it flips the script on a pretty standard concept, but also how smart and quirky the film itself is executed. Playing out almost like a twisted take on Home Alone, a group of kids at opposite ends of the teenage spectrum find themselves in a grim and deadly situation one night during what was supposed to be a quiet and calm babysitting gig. It’s difficult to review a film that depends highly on a major twist that comes fairly early; in the interest of preserving that twist, I’m going to keep it vague and short.

In a film mainly cast with young actors (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen, the stock parents, are fleshed out enough to feel like actual characters, although they only bookend the first and last ten minutes), all the performances are excellent — each knows his or her own role and plays it extremely well. Levi Miller, especially, shows a tremendous amount of range for a young actor, and Dacre Montgomery (Billy in Stranger Things 2 & 3) gets a lot of mileage from playing your typical teen-boy asshole, and this in a reduced role.


Better Watch Out plays more like a horror/comedy rather than out-and-out horror, but not in a broad kind of way. Hewing closer to a dark tone as compared to something like, say, Krampus, Better Watch Out has a very sly and sneaky sense of humor — one far more subtle. Basically, if you’re taking Better Watch Out 100% seriously, you’re doing it wrong. It also gets some satirical mileage from its environment. The entirety of the film, except for a handful of exteriors, take place in the warm inviting home of young Luke, filled with bright colors, Christmas twinkly things, and other finery that upper-class people love. Then it gets covered in blood and murder and it's very holly jolly.

If you want violence and grue, you Better Watch Out ha ha puns. But seriously, gorehounds should be reasonably satisfied. Limbs don’t go flying, but within the confines of the home invasion sub-genre, what’s on display is perfectly reasonable. Some gags are left up to the imagination, but still manage to pack a mean punch anyway.

If you’re at all curious, see Better Watch Out before social media ruins the twist (and if there’s anything social media does, it’s ruin pretty much everything — twists included). Much — but not all — of your enjoyment rides on going in as fresh as possible.

Dec 7, 2019

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983)


You’re going to absorb so much information on rats from watching Of Unknown Origin that it’s absurd, and you’ll never see it coming. Like, apparently, a rat’s teeth never stops growing, hence why they chew, constantly, on everything, in an effort to wear their teeth down. 

Now, is that true? I have no idea, but a movie starring Peter Weller told me it is, and I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IT. 

By film’s end, you will be a walking rat expert and no one will ever date you.


As you settle down to watch Of Unknown Origin, what will resonate with you the most after a while is that it’s honestly kind of good, with an absolutely committed performance by Weller and an almost JAWS-like approach to the material. (There’s even a scene where Weller’s Burt flips through books and photographs of rat attacks suffered by humans, complemented by a similarly moody Williams-esque musical score. It’s a shame none of the pages reflected in Weller’s glasses, or perhaps director George P. Cosmatos figured that might be going a tad too far.)

It’s easy and even kind of understandable to write off Of Unknown Origin if you’ve never had the pleasure, especially when you know that it was a product of the ‘80s, starred a pre-Robocop Peter Weller, and was about one man’s descent into hell thanks to the gigantic rat infesting his New York brownstone. And don’t get me wrong, Of Unknown Origin is silly, but not the kind of silly where you can just dismiss the film out of hand. It’s silly in the sense that it’s man vs. rat, but the concept is taken seriously enough, and Cosmatos is a skilled enough director (let’s pretend that the ghost-directing going on during the shooting of Cobra and Tombstone by Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell*, respectively, were overblown), that the film never feels like outright parody or B-movie stupidity.


And Weller, holy shit — he’s having so much fun with this role, and why wouldn’t he? This is an actor’s dream — the chance to transform, slowly, through the course of one film, starting off as a plain and mild-mannered junior executive and ending the film as a raving madman, willing to go to great lengths to destroy the rat that’s totally ruining his mind — and his own house in the process.

Throughout, Of Unknown Origin maintains a very sly sense of humor, through Weller’s own bemusement with the rodent, as well as the concept itself. And obviously, or maybe not so obviously, it’s also clever satire on the idea of the American Dream — in this case, the perfectly manicured, catalog-ready home: what it says about your status, and the silly lengths one may go to maintain its flawlessness. So, if that’s the case, then what does the rat represent? God knows. How social do you want to get? The scourge of the middle class or the poor? Maybe the homeless? Immigration? (This isn’t far-fetched. Creepshow, more specifically the segment “They’re Creeping Up On You,” in which E.G. Marshall’s hermetically sealed apartment is infested with cockroaches meant to represent the exploding immigrant population in the surrounding city, has explored this ground before.) Weller’s a white, well-to-do, suit-wearing fella who handles “deals” as part of his job, so based on the film itself, the rat can represent almost anything, since white people are everything. I mean, sure, the synopsis refers to “the rat race of Wall Street” and that’s a differing and fair allegory, but much more of the conflict takes place within the rat-infested home, with Weller’s job not suffering that much or causing that much undue stress. (Plus I just like my own analysis better because I’m whiny and proud.)


But if you’re not interested in social commentary, that’s fine, because Of Unknown Origin is still entertaining as hell if you’re taking the movie merely at face value. Only in rare cases do I find the animals-run-amok sub-genre entertaining — I’ll re-mention JAWS as a fave, and Alligator as a dark horse, but I’ll also mention that I find Hitchcock’s The Birds kind of stupid and Cujo extremely dull. Having said that, I’ll happily count Of Unknown Origin among the ranks of one of the good ones. Obviously it’s no JAWS, but it’s a hair better than JAWS 2, and that’s not bad. Maybe because, on paper, you wouldn’t think Of Unknown Origin had a chance, and maybe I like an underdog. Or maybe I expected an easily dismissible bullshit B-movie like the distributor’s prior release of Deadly Eyes and got something much more well rendered.

Be sure to watch it surrounded by your ratta friends that you bought from the local IKEA, to whom you’ve assigned differing personalities, and then talk to them during the movie and pretend they are talking back to you in little unique rat voices because you are just a total, total weirdo.



*Hey, Tango & Cash!