May 30, 2020

SESSION 9 (2001)

I’ve always been oddly fascinated with abandoned structures. From the tiniest house to the largest factory (or, appropriately, mental institution), the idea of a place formerly inhabited falling into disrepair and becoming the home of a different kind of dweller—the homeless, the fugitive, the reclamation of nature in the form of burrowing animals and crawling vines—is intriguing, a little sad, but exceptionally threatening. Even the most mundane object—an old desk, a stack of files, or perhaps a wheelchair—take on a new, ominous appearance. These things that were once part of everyday life have been sitting dormant, waiting for their owners to come back and give them purpose again. That doesn’t apply just to these everyday things, but the structures that surround them. The more you think about it, the more you realize that an abandoned building is actually the saddest thing there ever could be.

There’s certainly a detectable sadness permeating Brad Anderson’s magnificent debut as a horror director, utilizing the abandoned Danvers State Hospital of Massachusetts as the setting for his film about a group of men each being affected by their interaction with the old crumbling building. Gordon (Peter Mullan), an exhausted new father, is on the verge of losing his business, the Hazmat Elimination Company. Phil (David Caruso) has recently lost his girlfriend to co-worker Hank (Josh Lucas), and has fallen hard on drinking and drugs to cope. Hank, meanwhile, has no real purpose in life, and he knows this, and he’s looking for his “meal ticket” to something better. Mike (co-writer Stephen Gevedon), who was once on a promising path to practicing law, didn’t make it through law school, and is now shucking asbestos to make ends meet. Finally there’s Jeff (Brendon Sexton III), Gordon’s nephew, a naïve innocent who simply finds himself in over his head, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time.

As for the less traditional characters, okay, fine—the most important character is Danvers State Hospital itself, barely dressed up beyond a shock therapy room and the plastic-covered walls. It effortlessly exudes menace, mystery, sadness, and terror all at once. Also doing a lot of the heavy lifting are the audio recordings of a nameless doctor and his patient, Mary Hobbes, who presents in three different alternate personalities: Princess, Billy, and Simon. Once these recordings are discovered, Mike becomes obsessed with them, playing them in order, beginning with session one and ending with you-know-what. As eerie as the hospital that surrounds them, these different voices come together to tell one story, allowing a glimpse into both the kind of terror and sadness that must have been rampant in structures like this during the early 1900s.

Peter Mullan, taking the lead, pulls off a staggering performance as Gordon, father to a newborn trying to fix his broken marriage as he’s also dedicating his time to a poisonous, crumbling hospital. His transformation from beginning to end is slow, but at the last stop of his journey, his final scenes are heartbreaking. Caruso’s Phil is a wonderful prick—the kind he excels at playing. A bit too overbearing at times, his weed-smoking, bar-dwelling presence leaves the viewer constantly on edge, and unsure if he’s to be trusted. (And his epic "fuckyouuuuuuu" is already infamous.) Josh Lucas, in one of his earliest rolls, plays another kind of prick—the one even more obnoxious, but also the kind you can’t help but love. Rounding out the cast are Stephen Gevedon, whose knowledge of the history of the hospital provides the basis for an early disturbing scene (and which will sound familiar if you’ve seen the recent film Regression), and Brendon Sexton III, who offers the only weak performance in the ensemble, though it’s more inconsistent than outright distracting.

On the making of the film, director Brad Anderson talked about finding the location first and wanting to set a story within and around the infamous structure, but wanting to avoid the typical scenario in which teenagers break in to fuck around and end up in peril. His describing falling back on a group of men charged with clearing out asbestos simply as a device to set a story inside the hospital comes off almost as dismissive, which is strange considering that this same device is not only wholly original, but actually serves as an interesting dichotomy between the lives these men want to live and the lives they currently are. Being forced to “shuck fiber” is not only potentially hazardous to their health, but also represents to each of them just how low they have all sunk—from Gordon, who promises to pull off what would ordinarily be a 3-week job in just seven days, to the men who work alongside with him, all who’d rather be any place else. None of them are in particularly enviable positions in life, and despite their occasional camaraderie, leave them more susceptible to the influence the hospital has over them. As to what the hospital is doing to the men exactly—Is it supernatural? A form of cabin fever?—Anderson never makes it clear, which is just fine. Like the hospital itself, this thing that awakens when the men enter and takes hold of each of them in different ways is better left as mysterious. Like its patient room walls covered in old family photos and newspaper headlines, you’re given just enough of the story to reach its conclusion—and, like the ambiguity of all the awful things that may or may not have occurred in that hospital over the years, it’s better not to know, and it’s even more intriguing because we don’t.

A criminally under-seen horror thriller, Session 9 is one of the best horror films to come out of the 2000s. Don't look at the cover and dismiss it as just another haunted house kind of film, because it's not that whatsoever. Owing more to The Shining and Don't Look Now rather than Paranormal Activity or Grave Encounters, Session 9 is old-school, slow-burn kind of horror, made for (gasp--and starring) adults experiencing their own kind of horror--and more than just the obvious.

May 29, 2020


For a while, the Bourne series managed to avoid falling victim to the scourge of diminishing returns. If anything, the series got better with each subsequent entry. The initial film directed by Doug Liman was a perfectly entertaining if somewhat forgettable bit of spy pulp, featuring a scene in which Matt Damon surfed a dead body down several flights of stairs while shooting bad guys. Once director Greengrass came aboard to helm the next two entries, the franchise found its footing, inventing a bad-ass James Bond Jr. who was one step ahead of his pursuers nearly all the time. Things got a little wacky with The Bourne Legacy, Universal’s attempt to resurrect their money-making franchise once star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass seemed perfectly satisfied with The Bourne Ultimatum, which put to bed any further necessity for Jason Bourne to walk briskly through cities while the camera zoomed in frantically on the back of his head. Jeremy Renner did a fine job in a film that, while controversial for both its story choices and its existence in general, still manages to be a perfectly acceptable entry, even if most fans cite it as their least favorite.

Well, consider yourself relieved of duty, The Bourne LegacyJason Bourne is here to out-mediocre you in every way.

For a long time, even after the saga of Jason Bourne/David Webb seemed satisfied as he swam to freedom while listening to Moby, Damon and Greengrass were asked about more Bourne. And for a while they both gave the same but perfectly understandable answer: that, as far as they were concerned, the story was completed, and unless they could come up with a very good reason to unretire the character, their tenure in the franchise was done.

That’s why The Bourne Legacy happened, which made everyone miss Damon and Greengrass even more.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about Jason Bourne which made both star and director return to the monster they had created, as it’s nothing more than a greatest hits of the series rolled into one film, with a finale that unfolds in the same city where Con Air did.

Con Air.

As Jason Bourne, Matt Damon looks bored, and for the first time evidently uncomfortable in the role. His performance suggests that Damon still can’t quite understand why Bourne is back, even if the script concocts a half-assed story relying on tired family drama to drag him out of retirement. Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey, the new suit-wearing villain, somehow manages to look more bored than the franchise’s star while also giving a performance more lifeless than the one he gave in the direct-to-video Jason Statham actioner The Mechanic 2: Resurrection. Alicia Vikander, who exploded onto the scene after her chilly performance in Ex-Machina, plays another CIA operative who must be breathing the same sedation air as her boss, because she also seems completely bored to be doing…whatever it is she’s doing. Is she a friend to Bourne? Is she a foe? Does anyone care? (The CIA’s employee retention rate is pathetic. Maybe everyone should stop doing corrupt things and getting killed by their own version of Frankenstein’s monster!)

As celebrated as the Bourne franchise has been, the mainstay complaints remain unfettered: Greengrass still shakes the camera during close-quarter action scenes, leaving the choreography that someone was paid to teach, and which the actors were paid to learn, come off as indecipherable. Falling victim to the same pitfalls of other long-running franchises, new conflicts that are supposed to be way worse than previous ones are introduced to give Bourne something to do, only there’s one problem: the previous conflict, a black ops government program that turned soldiers into brainwashed assassins controlled by their superiors, is way more interesting and deadly than the new conflict, which is — wait for it — government surveillance. AKA, real life. Jason Bourne, in an effort to be about something, says the name “Snowden” over and over in hopes that the audience will think, “wait, that’s kinda like what’s happening now!” The problem is the idea of the government surveilling its people had been an old topic for years before 2016. In a world where people railed against the Patriot Act, but then willingly posted the most personal and intimate details about themselves on social media, the concept of a government spying on its people feels less high stakes and more business as usual.

And yeah, once again a Bourne film ends with Moby’s "Extreme Ways" playing over the end credits, only it’s an alternate, remixed, and lesser version...and in a way it perfectly sums up Jason Bourne: somewhat different, mostly familiar, and not nearly as good.

Still, the action — the driving point behind the series — works quite well. Jason Bourne is bookended by two exciting chase sequences — both which manage to initially fool you into thinking you’re about to watch a good film, and later make you wonder if the bloated, tedious middle portion was as dull as you remember. The opening elongated sequence in which Bourne and a returning Julia Stiles as Nikki Parsons navigate the rioting streets of Athens while being pursued by government operatives is an excellent and exciting sequence — perhaps one of the best of the franchise. It gets a little Twister-ish at times in terms of the sudden ridiculous hurdles that the duo must overcome during the chase, but it’s still a striking sequence and one that allows the film to open with a bang…before it soon deflates. Additionally, the finale chase in Las Vegas, too, makes for effective popcorn entertainment, even if once again coming dangerously close to silly and unrealistic.

The problem is that whole middle part called the rest of the film.

Jason Bourne made a bajillion dollars at the box office, so of course Universal is amped up for Bourne to Kill, with Damon and Greengrass keen to come back. Recently series producer Frank Marshall has come out against the idea of teaming up Bourne Legacy’s Aaron Cross with Jason Bourne, but at this point, the filmmakers would be wise to consider it. Jason Bourne has proven there’s nothing left for the character to do besides retcon upon retcon, so maybe Bourne and Cross can hunt down Edward Snowden only to let him go and they can all jump in a river together and listen to some Moby.

Jason Bourne may as well have been two hours of Matt Damon shrugging at the camera. With Universal now having released a second underwhelming Bourne entry in a row, they need to do two things: either come up with a radical but organic dynamic change to the series (I’m telling you — buddy team-up: The Depressing Brothers!), or just let it be, despite the conclusion of this one being obviously left open for another sequel. 

May 27, 2020


Escape from L.A. is the punchline in John Carpenter’s career, and there’s all sorts of reasons for this, which we'll get into in a second. It's not just the only sequel he’s ever directed, but it's a sequel to one of his most celebrated (and you know how sequels go...). Escape from New York, made in 1981 during the beginning of Carpenter’s directorial career, was a scrappy, low-budget, grindhouse-lite action/sc-fi romp that seemed like the first time Carpenter made a film that showed his true voice and passion as a filmmaker. Sure, by then, Halloween had come along and, after a few false negative first impressions, finally caught on with audiences and critics, making his career one to follow. That Carpenter hasn’t made a film that feels like Halloween since then shows that his worldview was a bit more audacious. His interest in earlier western filmmakers like Howard Hawks and John Ford, and those particular films which saw a small motley band of gunfighters working together in isolated environments to fend off siege-like attacks from a larger, deadlier threat has been a major part in a dozen of his films. In a way, Escape from New York is his thesis statement as a director, as it contains all his technical hallmarks, boasts all the different storytelling facets through which he would express himself during his entire career, and finally, stars his longtime actor collaborator, Kurt Russell.

While Escape from L.A. is almost the antithesis to Carpenter as a director, which sees him applying a big studio, bullshit approach to the same story he was able to tell with better results at a tenth of the budget, it’s right on par with his tendency as a storyteller to skewer certain societal aspects, whether it be religion (Prince of Darkness), pop culture (In the Mouth of Madness), or the unholy alliance between politics and the media (They Live). Though Escape from L.A. isn’t interested in tackling such heavy topics, it’s still successful in its goal, which is to skewer the superficiality of Hollywood and the culture of the greater Los Angeles area while telling the kind of story that Carpenter likes to tell: a band of gunfighters up against impossible odds. Whether or not you consider Escape from L.A. a failure (most people do), there’s a certain romanticism of the film that can’t be denied...but that’s only if you take the film as just one small part in a long career of its three main collaborators: co-writer/director Carpenter, co-writer/co-producer/actor Russell, and co-writer/co-producer Debra Hill. All three (mostly) reprise their roles and responsibilities from Escape from New York, only now they’re doing it after having found success in the studio system, alongside its many pitfalls and trappings that can ruin the enthusiasm and idealism of young, budding filmmakers. Following his pre-classic release of The Thing, Carpenter learned the hard way how quickly a career trajectory can change once studios begin to view you as a wild card director who may not deliver a film to an audience that’s ready for it. Escape from New York was the result of three collaborators making a movie with the enthusiasm and idealism of uncorrupted filmmakers. Escape from L.A. was the same story retold with an organically accumulated hostility toward the very industry that took this thing they once loved and made it harder and harder for them to do it. Once Snake “agrees” to his latest search-and-rescue mission and is sent via underwater into the prison known as Los Angeles, one of the first images the audience sees is the appearance of a battered sign for Universal Studios and a great white shark trying to take a bite out of Plissken’s sub. It’s hard not to read between the lines at what Carpenter and co. are saying: ever since JAWS brought about the advent of the big summer tentpole movie, working in the studio system has never been the same.

Of course, if you’re examining Escape from L.A. as nothing more than a standalone movie without reference or knowledge of the people who made it, their relationships to each other, or their various endured hardships over the years, then yes, it’s a cartoonish, underwhelming, at times incoherent title that struggles to maintain that line between high-stakes sadistic action and audience-pleasing studio product. The visual effects are bad, the basketball sequence is worse (in spite of Russell’s purportedly genuine full-court basket shot), and most of the characters seem to be taking over for their counterparts from Escape from New York. (Steve Buscemi succeeds Ernest Borgnine while Valeria Golino succeeds Adrienne Barbeau and Season Hubley.) It should come as no surprise that Kurt Russell’s as good as ever as the eye-patched antihero Snake Plissken, and his Clint Eastwood sneer hasn’t diminished in any way in the fifteen years between entries. The problem is the hero can’t be nearly as interesting if he’s not up against a viable foe, and unfortunately, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) is the least interesting villain in Carpenter’s body of work, even when recognizing that very few of his villains were human. There’s nothing wrong with the actor’s performance; it’s just that the character is a pale shade of Isaac Hayes’ Duke from Escape from New York, who didn’t need large, explosive scenes to embody his tough-guy swagger. 

If Carpenter has ever been good at one thing, like the best science fiction writers, it’s been foretelling the future of society. They Live presented a future where people were mindlessly controlled by the media while living in squalor, accepting that it was all part of the plan. With Cliff Robertson’s unnamed role of The President, Escape from L.A. easily foretold the arrival of Donald Trump in the highest office. While Carpenter’s version of the President was of a religious fundamentalist building walls to keep out a certain element, Trump is doing nearly the same, only his own narcissism won’t allow him to recognize a force out in the universe that’s greater than himself. That both the fictional and real president each have a daughter to whom the underrepresented populace of the United States were looking for some kind of hope, it’s sadly ironic that only the fictional one had the wherewithal to stand up to her fascist father and reject his fundamentalist leadership. And, that Robertson very subtly quotes infamous nazi leader Joseph Goebbels in the film’s final moments is a stark reminder to the current reality we’re all being forced to share in which the real so-called president goes on national television and defends...nazis.

As time goes on, and Carpenter teases us with film projects that are probably never going to become reality, his fans are forced to accept that he’s more content to be a producer and a rock star these days, and that’s fine. His body of work speaks volumes and he’s already inspired the next generation of filmmakers who aren’t ashamed to admit it. While I’d love to see him and Kurt Russell collaborate on the long-mooted Escape from Earth (seems like a good way to work climate change into the mix, since Planet Earth is pretty well fucked anyway), both of them have already gone on record as saying they’re simply too old to entertain such a notion. Though it’s natural to take a filmmaker’s body of work and war its films against each other, I’ll always be grateful for every film bearing the name of John Carpenter, Director—even the so-called duds like this one.

[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

May 26, 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.]

May 24, 2020


More and more, filmmakers, especially those in the horror genre, are looking to the past for a bout of inspiration. Throwback horror films have become a popular movement over the last decade, with the amount of output increasing as filmmakers' love for the '70s and '80s becomes more and more pronounced. Canadian filmmaking group Astron-6 (Adam Brooks, Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Jeremy Gillespie, and Steve Kostanski) count themselves among the Quentin Tarantinos and the Ti Wests whose own films have attempted to both homage and recapture what made certain sub-genres of that era so entertaining, and so ripe for re-exploration.

With The Editor, the latest send-up from the guys who previously brought us their grindhouse ode Father's Day, their "run, robots!" homage Manborg, and the greatest thing of all time, Biocop, our filmmaking sextet have pointed their loving fingers at the mysterious, beautiful, and nearly-pornographic movement known as the giallo . Named for the cheap pulp, crime, and sex novels found on the bottom shelves of bookstores and newsstands during the early '70s (the name "giallo" derives from their uniformly yellow covers), this unusually alluring movement was a mostly European affair, beginning life in Italy with Mario Bava and Dario Argento before moving over to the United States (in a less obviously artistic form) to eventually inspire the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and Brian De Palma. The movement was more known for the fluidity of the camera, frank and unobscured sexuality, and healthy doses of grisly violence made beautiful through a purposeful filter design constructed by bold colors, rather than its ability to tell an original story.

Refreshingly, The Editor manages to do both.

Rey Cisco (Brooks) is an aging film editor with a wooden hand, a result from a freak accident one night in his editing suite. While dealing with the undeniable realization that his is an art being slowly left behind, things grow worse for him once a killer begins stalking members of the cast and crew, dispatching them in violent ways and removing four fingers from their one hand - which matches Rey's own malady, naturally incriminating him as the obvious red herring. Investigating these murders is Detective Porfiry (Kennedy), husband to a victimized and now-blind member of the cast, and whose hilarious wardrobe and wild facial hair seems to be invoking every early-'70s iteration of Donald Sutherland that ever existed. Rey's wife, Josephine (Paz de la Huerta), a former and now irrelevant film actress, doesn't make things any better, consistently reminding him that he barely qualifies as a man, nearly forcing him into the arms of his young and doe-eyed assistant, Bella (an adorable Samantha Hill, with whom, after one film, I am already in love). With all eyes on Rey and his seemingly approaching mental breakdown, the killer continues his bloody kill-list one stab wound at a time, leading to a finale that combines one particular character's descent into madness with the beautiful construct and the often unexplored potentials of the giallo sub-genre.

With its painstaking recreation of the giallo movement, right down to the primary-color lighting design, the hideous '70s fashion, and its eclectic soundtrack of new-wave synth artists working to homage that iconic Goblin sound (special shout-out to Carpenter Brut), The Editor should and perhaps will go down as being the most accurate and lovingly engineered throwback that exists so far in the world of the horror homage. Forget Death Proof or the Machete films, and hit pause on House of the Devil (oh no he din't!) - Astron-6 not only has their assured hands all over their concept, but they're not afraid to see those concepts through to the end, even risking isolating the very audience to whom they might be trying to appeal. An oft-used expression is the devil's greatest trick was convincing man he didn't exist, but The Editor's greatest trick was making its audience think they were sitting down with a straightforward parody of the giallo movement before pulling the shag rug out from under them and forcing them into something unexpected. It's through the surprises offered by the unique story that lifts it beyond a simple who-done-it and transplants it in a world that includes additional loving homage to the body-horror era of Cronenberg's early filmography, Nicolas Roeg-era Don't Look Now, and more, with references to horror mainstays (the D'Argento apartment complex; the famed Italian director with the first name of 'Umberto') ever in place.

Not content to just send-up this short-lived and quirky horror sub-genre, Astron-6 continue to rely on the dream-like and abstract world of the giallo while also tapping into that dreamy concept to carry forth its story. From there, The Editor becomes less about a black-gloved, knife-wielding killer and more about the wooden-fingered man who sets out to find the killer's identity, but soon becomes lost in a nightmarish world where he begins to question everything he sees, especially as that world becomes crashing down around him.

All that aside, and also speaking of, The Editor is consistently hilarious; its absurd and at times bizarre humor is used in short spurts. It doesn't offer a laugh-a-minute mentality, but only because it wasn't designed that way (although Kennedy's unhinged detective, as well as his extremely unusual sexual habits, likely walk away with some of the film's most absurd and biggest laughs). Sure, there are some minor digs at the sub-genre's less admirable attributes (the atrocious acting, the poor dubbing, the unrestrained look at sexuality), but The Editor is more concerned with reminding audiences why the giallo movement was such a temporarily captivating time in horror history. The closest thing there ever was to visual poetry within the genre, the giallo proved you could marry grisly content to striking images and create for the audience a ballistic ballet of blood and beauty that, if done correctly, should leave its audience titillated, horrified, and sexually charged all at once. The Editor has managed to do this, all while offering a healthy dose of humor.

One thing that may come as a surprise to someone expecting a more straightforward horror spoof is how strikingly eerie some of the concocted images manage to come across: the blue-eyed phantom who appears intermittently bathed in the blackness of a darkened editing suite actually has the power to send a river of chills down audience spines, and this in a film where one character says to another, "Hey, nice penis! I had a feeling this would be a good night for me!"

Where The Editor falters is during the third-act climax into one character's loss of reality: subplots are introduced that could have easily been removed from the final edit without effecting any significant change to the film's ultimate conclusion. Though the scenes themselves offer a fair bit of humor and homage, they only prove to slow the momentum that The Editor had successfully been building since its face-smashing opening. Not helping is the uneven performance from de la Huerta, an actress whose work has always had one foot firmly planted in the camp of quirk and eccentricity. Her approach sometimes works for a film with purposely heightened sensibilities, but at times just comes across as distracting.

These scarce issues aside, The Editor is a masterful film - not just in the sense of how successful a giallomageTM it manages to be, but also how it circumvents all expectations and manages to add a sense of sincere artistry on top of everything else the audience had already been anticipating. Though it momentarily stumbles during its own storytelling devices, and only when branching off and attempting to inject a new direction into this gone-but-not-forgotten cinema movement, The Editor proves to be yet another unique and unrelentingly entertaining offering from Astron-6.

May 21, 2020


The Killer of Dolls is probably the quirkiest and most bizarre catalog release I’ve seen in years. Though a Spanish production and directed by Miguel Madrid (under alias Michael Skaife), it shares a lot in common with the Italian giallo, right down to the era in which it was made, its style and techniques, and even its reliance on creepy doll imagery. Some folks more learned on the subject wouldn’t quite label it as a giallo, as it’s just different enough to warrant its label as more of a psychological thriller/slasher, but the similarities are definitely there.

One thing that makes the film stand out from its giallo colleagues is that the film’s killer is also its main character. There is no “twist” ending, nor is there a last-act moment that shockingly reveals the killer’s identity. The killer is…Paul (David Rocha), who is very psychologically unhinged, so much that he will literally walk into a dream sequence where things get super crazy before walking right back out again. His mental unrest derives from his domineering mother, who began raising him as a girl after the death of his young sister, and as you can imagine, it’s definitely warped his relationship to women. Paul’s world around him is very skewed, and his walking hallucinations involve people being transposed as mannequins, or vice versa, leaving him to wonder what’s real and what isn’t. 

David Rocha offers a very strong leading performance in an admittedly bizarre concept for a film, and director Madrid is intent on making The Killer of Dolls (also known as Killing of the Dolls) as unique as possible, right down to the random musical number at the beginning of the third act where its participants dance and move like mannequins. It’s actually stranger than I’m making it sound, if you can believe it. There are several murder sequences throughout, and while they may be viewed as graphic, none of them border on the kinds of uncomfortable murder sequences found in Italian gialli or the exploitation films of signori like Joe D’Amato or Bruno Mattei. Fellow Spanish director Jesús Franco’s The Killer of Dolls, for instance, shares similarities in plot and style, even treading the same water with its look at family abuse and dysfunction, but whereas Bloody Moon goes for pulpy thrills, The Killer of Dolls vies for substance, getting deep into Paul’s mangled psyche. 

The Killer of Dolls is now on Blu-ray from Mondo Macabre.

May 18, 2020


The rock ‘n’ roll horror film has somehow become a sub-genre over the years.

Say that phrase and people have their favorites: Rock ‘N’ Roll Nightmare, Hard Rock Zombies, the original Trick or Treat. Rock and horror became somewhat synonymous following the popularity boom of acts like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, and Kiss, among many others. Their black and dour and chain-ridden iconography and focus on dark lyrics and subject matter made them kindred spirits, so it was only a matter of time before they began to blur the lines and appear in each other’s worlds. Eventually, Alice Cooper was writing songs for Jason Voorhees.

Almost all of these titles weren’t just broadly painted with the horror brush — the films were generally satanic or demonic in nature. Appropriate, being that rock ‘n’ roll was, for a long time, the devil’s music (according to our grandmothers).

The Devil’s Candy is the next step, but also damn refreshing, taking the well-worn trope of “the devil made me do it” and doing something unique with it. Jesse (Ethan Embry) and his daughter  love metal — Metallica, Slayer, and all the rest — but otherwise the film presents them as normal and fully functioning — no hint of a troubled past, no signs of self-harm, depression, etc.

I doubt it’s spoiler material if I say the devil never appears on screen in physical form, nor does anyone become possessed by the devil or any of his minions. And I’m certainly not saying this idea is bad (I tell anyone who will listen about the awesomeness of Let Us Prey, starring Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham [Davos] as Beezlebub), but it’s always welcome and appreciative when someone takes a well traveled concept and does something new with it.

Ethan Embry has become a friend to the horror genre over the years, appearing in one of the best Masters of Horror episodes, “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (directed by Don Coscarelli), as well as the recent werewolf-at-the-old-folks home flick Late Phases. But if you’re in my demographic, then you remember Embry from one film alone: Can’t Hardly Wait, arguably the Fast Times at Ridgemont High of my generation. Remembering him from that goofball comedy, but seeing him in The Devil’s Candy, makes the actor much more likable in the role, and we, the audience, feel for him when he begins to lose control of his life and fall victim to the dark voices inside his head. The actor is barely recognizable with his Brad Pitt hair and his Bloodsport-era Van Damme body (seriously, I’m a functioning heterosexual and even I was in awe), but his kind and soulful eyes shine through, and every second of pain he experiences is felt by the viewer.

The film is strikingly directed as well, offering a handful of extremely suspenseful, shocking, creepy, and disturbing sequences (not all at once, of course), and this more than includes the excellent finale.
Though The Devil’s Candy runs at a scant 72 minutes, its story never feels incomplete or in need of additional content. It’s not a typical running time for the genre, but there’s nothing wrong with that either. When the film ends, you’ll swear it had only been on for 20 minutes. That’s less to do with running time and more to do with how easily it sucks you in.

May 15, 2020

BOSS (1975)

Boss, also known as The Black Bounty Hunter and its original/credits title Boss Nigger (the one and only time I’ll use that particular title, and for search/posterity only), was released less than one year after Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Both films saw a pretty similar plot, though the latter was played for much broader comedic effect: a black sheriff presides over a white town in the Old West and shakes up their culture — along with their women. And while Boss is a comedy, it’s not nearly as on the nose as its most immediate colleague. Being a Blaxploitation title, it also strives to upset the status quo by deviating away from the comedy to revel in darker aspects of humanity’s ugliness. Much of this comes from the hugely offensive exchanges that Boss (Fred Williamson) and his deputy, Amos (D’Urville Martin) engage in as they first arrive in town. (The n-word is thrown around more liberally than Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and that’s saying something.) But it also comes from the violence, the tragedies faced, and in the generally despicable way that the white town treats black and Mexican characters. The Blaxploitation sub-genre could do this like no other, and though it’s a cinematic movement not taken all that seriously due to some of the dubious titles that were released and the unintentionally amusing tropes that became legacy, always hidden within some heinous concepts was an important, and sometimes smartly rendered, morality tale. (Williamson’s Black Caesar is the best example of this.)

Williamson, who wrote and produced Boss, sometimes falls victim to too broadly showing whites as offensive — even those who aren’t trying to be. “Our family in Boston had black people working for us,” begins the white Miss Pruit (Barbara Leigh), and already you begin to cringe — openers like this equate to “I’m no racist, but..” in real life. “They were good people. They used to sing and dance a lot. I used to love to watch them.”

Cut to this face:

In fact, there’s exactly one white character — Pete the Blacksmith — who is a decent man right off the bat; he doesn’t start off as horrid and bigoted before learning the error of his ways. Williamson’s script suggests that, in a town of, maybe, a hundred citizens, one of them isn’t racist.


Though not taken very seriously (Blaxploitation might rank even below horror, which I never thought was possible), the sub-genre was instrumental in doing one main thing: exposing white audiences to black culture, in an effort to humanize them, by sneaking it into otherwise mainstream concepts for films. It’s no mistake that Blaxploitation was launched and enjoyed a nice long successful run following the turbulent fight for civil rights during the 1960s. It was a direct response and reaction to uncertain times and deeply rattled communities. Super Fly is one of the best examples of this covert exposure to black culture, during which the film stops the action several times as its main cast of characters visits a club to watch entire song performances by the film’s soundtrack contributor, Curtis Mayfield. Boss doesn’t follow this same approach, forgoing a look at black culture and instead focuses on the black experience; even when its black characters are in positions of power, specifically law enforcement, they still suffer the indignities of being treated like human garbage by the townsfolk. It’s just that they’re now in a place where they can do something about it. You’ll note, amusingly, that when Boss and Amos begin posting new ordinances all around town about what’s now considered illegal, and what kinds of fines those infractions incur, none of them rank more than a $5 fine — unless, of course, someone uses a racial epithet against someone else. That ranks a solid $20 fine or a day in jail.

Much of Boss is very funny, but it’s that kind of humor where you feel conflicted for laughing, even though that’s what was intended. Williamson knows there’s humor to be found in casual offense; I can’t even imagine what the pearl-clutchers of today’s easily-outraged populace would think as they watched. The strongest point of Boss’ use of humor is that the viewer becomes more easily disarmed during the moments that are genuinely dramatic. You spend so much time laughing about how Amos likes to pursue “fat women,” or at how obliviously terrible the town can be to Boss and Amos, that once a young boy is trampled in the street by the film’s villain, it’s not something you’d expect and it packs a surprising punch.

Blaxploitation very rarely infiltrated the western genre, even though the idea to do so harks back to 1938 with Two-Gun Man from Harlem, but with Williamson as the lead/co-writer/producer and veteran Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon — irony!) at the helm, it’s doubtful any other duo could have pulled off a more entertaining and even poignant film.

May 12, 2020


(Immediate spoilers to follow. RUN.)

Its 2008 graphic novel notwithstanding, I Kill Giants shares almost an uncomfortable amount of similarity to 2016’s A Monster Calls, itself based on a novel of the same name published in 2011. In both stories, two adolescents escape into the confines of their imaginations to help them make sense of, and try to stop, the cancer that’s eating away at their mothers. Their refusal to accept what is, and which can’t be stopped, forces them to create worlds where they are strong and fearless and, most importantly, victorious. In our own dark times, we often create alternate realities in which to exist where that loved one hasn’t yet passed on, or where the person you love also loves you back. In spite of the momentary moments of comfort this can bring us, reality is never too far behind. Films like A Monster Calls and I Kill Giants are allegories for the grieving process; through our young antagonists, we confront the fears of our past and the things which have brought us the most pain and we resurrect that sensation of dealing with something entirely out of our control. Both films offer hope — not for a favorable outcome, but for one where the world won’t end, and life can still go on.

Madison Wolfe (previously seen as another beleaguered character in The Conjuring 2) is a tremendous young actress; that she’s already appeared in the likes of Trumbo and True Detective also shows that she knows a good project when she sees it. All of I Kill Giants rides on her shoulders; very few scenes take place without her. And in them she’s either fierce, or stubborn, or acerbically funny. Zoe Saldana as the school’s counselor also does great and affecting work; the scenes between Wolfe and Saldana are among the strongest in the film, and Saldana provides the maternal care that seems to be otherwise missing from Barbara’s life, despite the best intention of her older sister, Karen (an excellent Imogen Poots).

Also of note: the impressive use of CGI for what is clearly a low budget affair. Given the title and concept, yes, giants are brought to life using a mixture of computer graphic imagery and animation, and it never once looks cheap or hokey. Films with similar budgets rely on CGI solely for gunshot wounds and even they manage to look extremely unconvincing. In I Kill Giants, every use of CGI looks theatrical-worthy, and it’s not intermittently used, either. The machinations of Barbara’s imagination are a near constant presence and they are always worthy of tent pole expectations.

Being someone very emotionally affected by A Monster Calls, the secret behind I Kill Giants reveals itself a little earlier than the filmmakers intended. Upon this realization, the goodwill earned up to that point deflates just a bit, but through its performances and its emotional honesty, it earns  the same amount of goodwill as its predecessor by its end. Though the former reigns supreme over the latter, I Kill Giants deserves to stand side-by-side with its spiritual counterpart. It’s still an extremely touching story with an equally important message, and what’s the harm in allowing films to share that burden beyond just the one title?

May 9, 2020



The father/son bond is one of film’s most explored relationships, more so than mother/ daughter/anyone else, and that’s because men are hard headed and stubborn and create a lot of their own problems. That’s hard-wired into our DNA. A father wants his son to find his way in life, whether it’s being exactly like him or nothing like him. And a son, likewise, wants to find his own way and prove to his father that he can do it. When this relationship is portrayed on-screen, it can be powerful because men are rarely given the opportunity to look vulnerable.

The way Walking Out handles it is one of the more unique approaches, in that even though Father (Bomer) and Son (Wiggins) are estranged, they are not strangers. There is a mutual love there. The son, David, might show trepidation for spending a trip in the frigid wilderness hunting with his gruff father, but it’s not the kind of conflict where that’s the last place he wants to be and therefore he’ll be a total brat about it. Meanwhile, the father, Cal, still holds a grudge against David’s mother for having left him, which may or may not be leaking out in the way he treats his son. Cal, as played by Bomer, very finely treads that line between being a likable character and one whom you wish would treat his son better. He’s hard on David in a way that’s likely (and hopefully) beyond the way fathers generally treat their sons. Cal doesn’t have a passive bone in his body, and if there’s a way he can educate his son on the fineries of hunting, but which almost always extends to life in general, he will do so — even if in the form of shaming him. Despite this, there is love there between them, and it’s a love that grows as the two end up depending on each other to escape the wintry wilderness alive — Cal with his knowledge, and David with his strength.

For 95% of the time, Bomer and Wiggins are the only characters on screen, and both of them give great performances, with Bomer’s loving but prickly Cal being a tough balancing act. Bill Pullman appears in flashback sequences as Cal’s own father, managing to echo a similarly gruff but loving exterior he would soon pass onto his son.

Walking Out is gorgeously shot, mostly on location in the woods and mountains of Montana.  It’s one of those films shot in the cold that makes you feel the cold, so between that and the harshness that Cal and David endure, it makes for a bleak and grueling watch at times — but by design. It’s not one of those films that’s designed to make its audience feel like they’ve experienced a thrilling adventure, but more like an emotional awakening. By its end, yes, it doesn’t offer the kind of ultimate experience that the father/son bonding film usually offers, but, sadly, it might be one that sometimes echoes closer to reality.

May 6, 2020


The words “horror-western,” “cannibal tribe,” and “Kurt Russell” left me intensely excited for writer/director Craig Zahler’s directorial debut, Bone Tomahawk. After months of anticipation, finally seeing it was an underwhelming experience. Running at 2 hours and 12 minutes, the first two acts were slowly paced — lots of characters talking to each other and allowing their personalities to rub each other the wrong way. This was Bone Tomahawk’s overall biggest criticism, but it wasn’t something I personally minded, because when you’ve got actors like Russell, Bruce Dern, and Patrick Wilson playing these old west characters speaking to each other in that old west way, it was all very charming — not to mention well written, and very Linklaterish in that conversation realism, even if it didn’t seem to be leading to anything in particular. The third act, however, dramatically changes the tenure of the film, during which Russell and co. finally meet this cannibal tribe, and not everyone makes it out alive. What began as something different and daring ended with very cheap looking sets and graphic violence that kind of came out of nowhere.

Despite that, I made a note of Zahler’s name, largely because of how he approached writing and directing such a left-field kind of story while attracting A-list talent for a genre title. So when his sophomore effort, Brawl in Cell Block 99, began gearing up, I felt that familiar anticipation creeping in.

This time, I was not at all disappointed. On the contrary, it’s incredible — audacious, ballsy, (and daring) — a grindhouse flick that actually feels like a grindhouse flick rather than the gawdy Grindhouse double feature from Tarantino and Rodriguez, or its bastards Hobo with a Shotgun and the Machete series. From its mythical lead bad-ass (Bradley Thomas, as played by an intimidating Vince Vaughn), to its increasingly depressing prison settings (a popular environment for grindhouse flicks), to its array of cartoonish villains (a perfectly calibrated Don Johnson), Brawl in Cell Block 99 feels like the first film in a long time to not only properly make good on its grindhouse roots, but to present something sincere. What does that mean? It means that while something like Hobo with a Shotgun could be argued as being a fun and frantic experience, it’s not necessarily a good film. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is. It somehow manages to dip its toes into both pools with great success. Its special effects (all practical) are presented as purposely hokey; the level of violence Vaughn’s Bradley commits against his target is so graphic that it almost has to be — extremely realistic effects would have robbed the film from its intended camp value, and sometimes these hokey effects threaten to fly in the face of the otherwise razor-serious tone, but it’s a perfect balancing act; these two at-odds approaches complement each other rather than come to blows. Never in a million years did I think I’d ever see Vaughn and genre favorite Udo Kier sharing the screen — between that and the odd but somehow appropriate R&B/soul-driven soundtrack, Brawl in Cell Block 99 should be scattered and random, but yet it all works. And Udo Kier calmly driving down a quiet suburban street listening to soul is just hilarious to me — don’t ask me why. Perhaps the kidnapped, bound, and gagged pregnant woman and sadistic doctor in the backseat have something to do with the absurdity of the moment.

Far too exact to be coincidental, Brawl in Cell Block 99 also runs at 2 hours and 12 minutes (this must be Zahler’s lucky number), and while he again employs his very deliberate pace, this time it feels like a grand design — something part of the plan; incremental rising action. We already know from the outset that Bradley ends up in a hellish prison landscape, so the first half of the film plays with that, putting him on a path that eventually leads him there. Unlike Bone Tomahawk, the pace here is effectively executed — the film opens with a detectable amount of tension, and slowly builds and builds until those prison bars slam home behind the bald-headed and cross-tattooed Bradley Thomas. 

Film fans often seem surprised when Vaughn goes dramatic, but he’s played just as many serious roles as he has comedic ones, even having played a serial killer twice — in the horrid Psycho remake and the underrated thriller Clay Pigeons. And if we can thank the boring second season of True Detective for anything, it’s for reintroducing that idea of a serious Vince Vaughn to a wide audience. Vaughn rides that reasonable good will and ups the ante with Bradley Thomas, who makes for one of the best characters he’s ever played, and results in one of his best performances. It’s through his portrayal of his character that you never doubt for one moment the surreal violence he’s able to commit against those who deserve it — and a couple folks who don’t.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a huge surprise. Don’t miss it.

May 3, 2020


It's 1948 in Nuremberg, Germany. World War II has been over for two years, and the Allied powers have organized an official tribunal against four former Nazi judges who used the judicial system to sanction the vilest atrocities ever committed against mankind. What should be the easiest slam dunk in tribunal history is anything but, and the entire world's eyes are on this modest courtroom where the German defense attorney has posited a very slippery and controversial counter-argument against the culpability of his clients: with which individual or hierarchy does guilt cease? Is Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) the demon boogeyman that deserves to be formally charged for crimes against humanity? Or is it himself along with the three other judges sharing space on the same dock? Or, ultimately, is it all of Germany, or the world - its smaller governments and its people - who watched the Third Reich attempt to decimate an entire nationality and who did nothing to stop it? Chief Judge Day Haywood (Spencer Tracy) has the sad honor of overseeing such a claim. He, along with two other judges, must hear the relentless defense attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximillian Schell) argue using that latter tactic - that to condemn one men, or four, is to condemn an entire nation.

So says Mrs. Bertholt (Marlene Dietrich), owner of the house in which the stationed Chief Judge Haywood is staying: "I have a mission with you Americans: to convince you we're not all monsters."

Judgment at Nuremberg is phenomenal. Those more learned and cultured than I in the history of landmark cinema have already far more properly lauded this 1961 powerhouse directed by Stanley Kramer than I ever could. From the performances to the lush production design to the absolute best component, the flawless screenplay by Abby Man, Judgment at Nuremberg rightfully maintains its status as being one of the greatest films of all time. Despite the presence of legends Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster, it's the performance of Schell as Defense Attorney Rolfe who provides the film's best character (and for which he won an Academy Award). Like Judgment at Nuremberg, in which a world-changing event spearheaded by the Nazi party committed to the pages of history the worst crimes man could ever commit to man, Rolfe becomes the embodiment of the spectacle in which these tribunals were viewed. Defend those monsters? Give them a voice and an audience? But instead of taking the easy way out and painting Rolfe as a typical unlikable archetype, Schell instead imbues upon his character as much sympathy as he can while remaining within the realm of realism. Watch as he shows no restraint with the prosecution's first expert witness, his fury bolstered by what he views as hypocrisy, but then watch him with the prosecution's second witness, a mentally unbalanced man who suffered forced sexual sterility under orders of the Nazi regime - watch as Rolfe straddles that line between defending his clients while still personifying his at-odds position on how he must do so. Rolfe treats the witness with kid gloves, as he knows there's a certain level of bastard he needs to obtain in order to render the witness's testimony as invalid.

The character of Rolfe and performance by Schell mirror the very idea behind the Nuremberg trials: Not everything is black and white. There are no easy answers.

There has been no film about the atrocities and subsequent condemnation of Nazi Germany more important than Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. Both culturally significant and cinematically brilliant, it will not only remain one of the greatest all-time films, but the greatest courtroom drama ever made, alongside Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men. Interestingly, there's a scene in the film where an American journalist bemoans that he couldn't "give a story away" about the Nuremberg trials to American readers, as they had already become hardened and indifferent to the events of the war. And yet, fifty years later, Judgment at Nuremberg still has the power to shock, disgust, and educate - not only about what it was like to put a way of life on trial, but to live within its shadow.