Random Reviews:: By Ghastly1

Frisk (1995). Based on the 1991 novel of the same name by Dennis Cooper, this delightful charmer tells the story of gay stoic psychopath Dennis (Michael Gunther) who early on developed a taste for murder and necrophilia after coming across some snuff magazines. Dennis’s letters to his friend Julian (Jaie Laplante) who is having an incestuous relationship with his younger brother Kevin (Raoul O’Connell) and to prospective murder victim, Uhrs (Michael Stock)- who shares them with his femme fatale fiend friend Ferguson (Parker Posey)- form the main means through which the story is propelled.

Delighted with the goings-on, Ferguson and her pal join in on the murder and mayhem and the three lunatics form a deadly menage a trois, that even manages to kill Alexis Arquette. Featuring a soundtrack by Coil-who previously produced an unused soundtrack for Hellraiser- this is a fiercely f*cked flick (pun absolutely intended).

Cruising (1980). Keeping on the theme of movies about gay serial killers for a moment, William Friedkin’s Cruising is probably the most prominent example and famously caused a great deal of controversy during its production and lots of fulminating since. It’s unfortunate that the movie is probably better known for the controversy surrounding it, rather than the film itself-which most detractors have probably never even actually seen-because it is in my opinion both William Friedkin and Al Pacino’s best movie.

Set in the world of gay S&M culture and clubs and featuring many real-life participants of said lifestyle as extras, Pacino goes undercover (a minor pun) as a nominally straight cop in order to root out a serial killer, preying on the denizens of these dank and dark coteries and ends up becoming beguiled. It’s a dark film about distasteful subjects with a very real force punctuated by its ominous open-ended finale.

The film has many parallels with the real world and as of yet unsolved “Doodler” murders in San Francisco and the “Fag in a Bag” murders in New York City, committed by Paul Bateson, who had previously appeared in The Exorcist as the radiological technician that gave Reagan the cerebral angiography. Punk rock fans will also be intrigued to know that The Germs contributed several songs to the soundtrack, although only one made it into the film.

Windows (1980). Counterbalancing Cruising, Windows plays like a sapphic Cruising. Aberrosexual rage and lust abound in this tale of obsessive love and the ends one will go to possess someone they can’t have. Shot in my backyard of Brooklyn Heights and featuring such memorable moments as Rocky’s Adrian (Talia Shire) being molested by a rather odious cabbie; Adrian’s lady love using an audio recording of the assault as masturbation material and more telescopic voyeurism than Hitchcock’s Rear Window can shake a stick at.

This tale of the mentally disturbed is very interesting for its cinematography as it was directed by Gordon “The Prince of Darkness” Willis, who handled the duties on such milestones as The Godfather series and several of Woody Allen’s cinematic offerings.

Eating Raoul (1982). This film is hilarious; a married couple Paul and Mary (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov) devise a scheme by which they lure rich perverts to their humble abode in order to slaughter them via frying pan, steal their money and thereby open their dream restaurant. The works are fouled up when a self-styled, self-assured suave Mexican conman and thief named Raoul (Robert Beltran) that they have rather reluctantly placed under their tutelage, enters the picture.

Raoul sells the corpses to a dog food manufacturer, thus making their enterprise doubly lucrative. Raoul then cuckolds Paul in an attempt, to steal, his woman, his money and his life; but true love wins out in the end when Mary turns the tables and brains Raoul with the frying pan, fade to black.

But no, that is not all, their realtor was promised a fancy dinner and they forgot; never fear though, because thanks to some quick thinking on the part of the deadly duo, Raoul becomes the main course. A great politically incorrect satire that has gone overlooked for far too long.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985). I’m not a huge Freddy fan; definitely more of a Jason junkie. This however, is my favorite of the series and I feel it is underappreciated- the first and third entries I feel unfairly take the lion’s share of the reverence- it features Freddy’s best look, it keeps a steady pace, has the greatest set piece of the entire series in the pool party massacre and what I believe to be a genuinely good acting job on the part of Mark Patton as Jesse Walsh.

Before you point it out and given the subject matter of most of the movies I’ve reviewed so far; I saw this when I was a kid, so the “subtext” or “overtones” or whatever was lost on me and yes, it is there if you’re looking for it; but it isn’t a central aspect of the story.

Wicked, Wicked (1973). A gimmick movie definitely, but a pretty interesting one. Presented in “Duo-Vision” this is a slasher movie before there was such a thing and one that to my knowledge doesn’t get mentioned when there is talk about the genre and its primogenitors.

A masked psychopathic killer is stalking a sprawling Victorian beachfront hotel with a cop on his trail trying to save his singer ex-wife who happens to be in the killer’s sights. This is a fun and oftentimes funny little movie, that deserves better than to be relegated to oblivion.

Viy (1967). Based on Nikolai Gogol’s story of the same name, this was the first Soviet horror film to be released and tells the story of Khoma, a seminary student who winds up being bedeviled by a witch and her demon minions. A very cool film, indeed.

The Night of the Devils (1972)
Another film based on a Russian writer’s work, this time A.K. Tolstoy’s The Family of the Vourdalak. This Italian-Spanish co-production directed by Giorgio Ferroni, chronicles the misadventure of Nicola, an ultra-hip and modern 1970’s businessman, lately gone insane after reluctantly stumbling into some old-timey weirdness in the woods surrounding a peasant household near the Yugoslavian border, that suffers from a familial curse whereby, they are haunted by a witch-vampire hybrid that attacks them and turns them into vampire-zombie hybrids feeding on loneliness, sorrow and blood.

Nicola tries to persuade them through rationality that none of this can be true but what he cannot contend with is the irrational nature of things, far older and far beyond the horizons of his parochial comprehension. The Night of the Devils oozes creepy atmosphere and in my opinion, is an unsung horror gem that shows that no one does horror better than the Italians.

That’s So Craven!:: Deadly Blessing (1981)

Wes Craven’s DEADLY BLESSING (1981) will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the first R-rated horror films I experienced in a movie theater and naturally, it scared the crap out of me. It’s comfort horror that I revisit every couple of years and I always manage to find new angles to this diamond every time I visit. A recent re-watch accentuated for me how many themes and ideas that are present that Wes Craven would further explore or reuse in future projects. Craven is only one of three names credited for writing DEADLY BLESSING (high five to Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr) so I can’t be completely sure what concepts are a hundred percent the horror master’s but one thing is certain, this flick has got his paw prints all over it.

The Dream Demon. Craven has stated before that many of his ideas come from dreams. In BLESSING it very much seems that future mega-star Sharon Stone has a disturbing dream about future mega-horror icon Freddy Krueger. She wakes up from a terrible nightmare saying it involved being terrorized by a man with “all gray, like ash” skin and that seems like only a stone’s throw away from a man with burnt skin which would perfectly describe Freddy. It’s almost as if she dreamt of Freddy as he was still forming in Craven’s imagination.

The Snake Bath. Well. This bit is far too on the nose to deny. At one point during the film, lovely Maren Jensen is taking a well-deserved bath only to find she is not alone. A giant snake comes for a visit and sinisterly swims between her legs much like (almost exactly) like Freddy Krueger’s glove will famously threaten Nancy Thompson in a famous scene from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET a few years later. The beats and angles mirror each other to a tee and it’s almost like an early sketch to a future masterpiece. And of course Craven would go on to explore more snake horrors in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW(’88).

Summer Of Fear. At one point two characters portrayed by Jeff East and Susan Buckner meet up at a local movie theater that just happens to be playing Craven’s made-for-TV movie from a few years before, SUMMER OF FEAR; which East also starred in (Luckily East misses the showing so he never has to endure the two realities colliding. On the other hand Vicki, does presumably watch the movie and is surprisingly tight-lipped about the incongruity). In other words, this blink and you’d miss it, low key self-reference can be seen as a precursor to the ultra meta-awareness that Craven would explore to extremes in future movies like SCREAM (‘96) and especially WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE (‘94)

Death in the Barn. When Sharon Stone’s anguished character is attacked by a dark-robed figure in a barn, I swear it could almost be a cut scene from a SCREAM flick (sans the mask). Even the barn setting itself Craven would later revisit in his last film, SCREAM 4.

The Last Scare. Craven apparently was forced by producers to add one last scare to DEADLY BLESSING (probably to ape the previous year’s smash FRIDAY THE 13th). He wasn’t pleased but went ahead and incorporated a reality-smashing jolter involving a demon that breaks through the floor and drags a character into (I’m assuming) hell, followed by quiet normalcy being restored as if it never happened. Crazy that just about the exact same thing happened with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984). Producers wanted a slam-bang closer and Craven came up with a similar scenario; a reality-defying demon breaks through into our dimension (in this case through a door) and yanks a character off to who knows where. Craven wasn’t keen on either late addition tack-ons but I gotta say I love (and fell hard for) them both.

DEADLY BLESSING may not be Wes Craven’s best movie (though sometimes I wonder) but it’s always entertaining and certainly represents a fascinating moment in his career. It sports many of his familiar themes (every parent is toxic and oppressive) and stands in sort of an eye of the storm halfway spot between his earlier, more physical horror films (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES) and his more surreal, cerebral output (NOES, SHOCKER, etc.). It’s also beautifully shot, has a hypnotic James Horner score and is wonderfully suspenseful. There’s an of its time reveal that’s not likely to win a GLAAD award anytime soon but Jensen, Stone and Buckner truly shine as a troika of supportive old college pals and the film is ultimately a surprisingly positive testament to female friendship.

Kindertrauma Rewind:: The Fog (1980) vs The Birds (1963)!

UNK SEZ: Hey, it’s April 21st and that makes it officially international THE FOG (1980) day! One way we can celebrate is to travel backwards and re-visit an ancient post in which I explore the similarities between John Carpenter’s fantastic flick and Hitchcock’s classic THE BIRDS (1963)! Sounds like great fun doesn’t it? And all you have to do is click right HERE!

Several Serial Killer Films:: By Ghastly1

The Tenderness of Wolves (1973)
Neuer Deutscher Film fanatics rejoice, Ulli Lommel is here and he brought Rainer Werner Fassbinder along with him. Fritz Haarmann lives the dream life, not only is he a rapist serial killer of boys and young men, who lives in an apartment decorated with kitsch paintings of angels and filled with the rancid meat and moldering bones of his victims, in a highly chic bombed out part of the city, but he has a thriving business selling human meat to local establishments. Jealous much?

Angst (1983)
Loosely based on the life and crimes of Werner Kniesek, this Austrian film descends into the psycho psyche of a recently paroled killer as he embarks on a seriously sick and sadistic spate of slaughter in a manner quite unlike any other. Immediately after having been “rehabilitated” in one of the country’s fine institutions, our “hero” who never stopped seeing red, descends on an isolated estate, where he proceeds to “work out his repressed emotions and meaningfully express himself” by exterminating its inhabitants for his own sadistic sexual self-gratification; all the while, treating us to reminiscences of his childhood torment and systematically laying out all of the fantasies he’d like to make reality; it’s all heartwarming stuff really. Of course, I’m being facetious; this is a rough film to get through, the first two murders are actually unintentionally funny in my opinion but things take an abrupt and stark turn for the decidedly disagreeable with the killing of the daughter which is hard to watch, even for this jaded misanthrope. The film is masterfully composed and seamlessly shot with nary a nick in the narrative. Complimenting the camera work, Klaus Schulze’s synthesizer soundtrack sends symphonic shivers scurrying up my spine, giving the impression these psychopathic sounds are driving the annihilative actions of the antagonist. Clearly auguring later “extreme” movies from western neighbors France, this film also really deserves to be mentioned alongside superlative cinematic treatments of stateside slaughterers such as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, though for my money, Angst is infinitely more artful and hermetically unparalleled.

Schramm (1993)
Coming two decades after Tenderness of the Wolves, a decade after the aforementioned Angst and six years after his notoriously nasty necrotic debut, Nekromantik, Teutonic auteur Jorg Buttgereit’s sublimely surreal sadomasochistic sickie swansong character study collage of a sexually deviant serial killer’s final seconds of survival is exactly what it’s subtitle: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer suggests. Through a loose utilization of the reverse chronology technique, later popularized by the likes of Christopher Nolan, we witness the recondite recollections of one Lothar Schramm, the Lipstick Killer, as he lies sprawled out on the floor of his apartment in a pool of his own blood after cracking his skull open following a header off a ladder while painting over plasma stains in the parlor. What is great about Schramm is that it doesn’t allow for any pop psychology answer to the perennially posited query, why? We are left with the patently pathetic personage of masturbating, penile mutilating Schramm himself; he was what he was because he was a loser, nothing more. That is the truly subversive substrate of this film, it’s comment on it’s own ilk.

Cold Light of Day (1989)
We now jump across the pond to Merry Olde for a little looksee at a lunatic Lustmord flick “For those too sensitive for this world” as the concluding tribute to the director’s self-slaying friend states. The film is based on the escapades of “the British Jeffrey Dahmer”, Dennis Nilsen and is shot in a queasy quasi cinema verité style, which adds inestimably to the grubby, grimy, grungy feeling of inhabiting Nilsen’s flat, not to mention his life. Heads are boiled, bodies are stowed under floorboards and none are the wiser until Dennis formulates the fancy idea of flushing flesh down the loo. If I may be allowed a pun, that is when everything goes to shit; Nilsen is promptly arrested and confesses his misdeeds to his Albion accuser Inspector Simmons. As an aside and if I may be allowed one more pun, this film pairs well with the 1993 film, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer starring Carl Crew as the eponymous Dahmer, which, while “fictionalized” sheds far more light on the character and motivations of it’s subject and feels truer than 2002’s Jeremy Renner vehicle, Dahmer.

Godzilla Vs Kong (2021)

As far as let downs go, GODZILLA VS KONG isn’t so bad. It delivers some true eye-popping spectacle or maybe I’m just the easiest mark when it comes to buildings being destroyed and flashy neon colors. I wonder if it’s possible I might have enjoyed it more if I was able to see it in my beloved (but now dead-by-Covid) local movie theater? Maybe. On the other hand, I didn’t mind watching in sweats with a fridge full of beer either. Ah, why blame the victim (me) though? The sad truth is that this is a movie that does a great job with monsters destroying things and a terrible job creating anything remotely human. I’m a big disaster movie fan so I’m not asking for much as far as characterization goes. I just need a few quick but juicy brush strokes. I’m not looking for more backstory, more info or more time spent with the characters; I just need them not to be dried out charmless husks. I’m curious if anyone can confirm if director Andrew Wingard appeared younger after filming because it truly appears that he sucked the life energy from his cast.

We all want to see the monsters fight its true. We all know going in that we’re going to have to endure a bunch of scenes with people looking at maps and computers speaking gobley-goop. It’s an agreement we all sign up for. Usually in a well done film the downtime works to create anticipation for the promised eye-candy and may even accentuate the eventual cathartic release random destruction brings. But GVK seems to take it a couple dozen painful steps further and the non-action scenes play like dead air and white noise. I’d say every other movie in this monster –verse series (GODZILLA, KONG: SKULL ISLAND, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS) dealt with pretty much the same format but were still able to install a sense of wonder and a variety of good and bad human-types to get behind or root against. I’m not sure how nothing remotely like that happens here. To render Rebecca Hall uninteresting, Alexander Starsgard uncharismatic and Millie Bobbie Brown a dead weight is really some sort of unholy cinematic alchemy.

This is a flick that introduces something called the “hollow earth” a stupid concept that a Saturday morning cartoon would be embarrassed to try to sell and yet it’s sadly appropriate for such an empty vessel. GODZILLA VS KONG is beautiful, mighty beautiful. There are some incredible visuals that brilliantly call back Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES but I’d almost rather check them out in a special effects reel. Again, I don’t think I’m asking for much just to have the bare minimum of believable story and at least remotely relatable characters. Heck, I don’t even think my pal Godzilla came across very well, somehow he even seemed like he was there to pick up a paycheck and split and he’s (to the best of my knowledge) pure CGI; how does one suck the energy out of something that isn’t even alive? Oh well, I loved the fight against the backdrop of neon buildings in Hong Kong, In fact, I’d say its worth the price of admission alone, I guess. Plus there’s a pretty nifty surprise special guest star monster I was Mecha-delighted to see. Maybe next time add a puppy in peril though and give me something to wring my hands about.

Name That Trauma:: Drew P. on a Sherlock Holmes Robot

Last time I submitted A Name That Trauma, it was identified within 24-hours. Let’s see if folks can beat that!

Okay – so there was this TV show on daytime PBS during the early 90s. Probably between 1990 and 1994. I watched this on either Vermont Public Television or New Hampshire Public Television. I don’t think this was a regionally-produced show because the local stations were always pretty strapped for cash. The show was all about mathematics. We’re talking weapons-grade math: geometry and algebra. Stuff that was way too complex for my puny child mind to comprehend. (Stuff that’s way too complex for my puny adult mind too, but I digress…) The bulk of each episode consisted of a bland, polo-shirt-and-moustache, middle-aged-dad sorta guy interviewing teachers and mathematicians. 

Here’s where the trauma comes in: each episode also featured prologue and epilogue segments with robotic versions of Sherlock Holmes and Watson attempting to thwart Professor Moriarty. These segments were rendered in very primitive, early 90s computer animation, and Holmes and Watson looked like blocks on wheels with spindly ball-and-socket limbs. The Holmes robot had a pipe and a deerstalker cap. The Watson robot had a moustache. Moriarty had a black fedora, a dracula-esque cape, and sharp claws. I found the claws to be a particularly frightening detail.

Every episode had a pattern. Moriarty would lure Holmes and Watson into a math-inspired trap and Holmes would apply the concepts taught in the episode’s mathematics lesson towards a solution. Piece of cake. Done in one. But then, during the epilogue, Moriarty would spring a SECOND trap, leaving Holmes and Watson in LETHAL DANGER. And then the show would end. It would just END.

I can’t emphasize this enough. Every. Single. Episode. Ended with Holmes and Watson utterly trapped and about to die. One episode ended with Holmes and Watson at the mercy of snarling sphinxes with glowing red eyes. Another episode ended with Holmes and Watson getting chased by howling yetis. They were trapped in claustrophobic mazes, collapsing tombs, avalanches, and rising floods. It was nightmarish. The whiplash between middle-aged-math-dad boredom and the inevitability of death was extremely upsetting. The fact that Holmes and Watson would reappear in the next episode didn’t give me any comfort. It was as if they were reborn just to die all over again. Cruel, infinite deaths.

Hope some fellow PBS kid is able to identify this!