We reached 1,000 reviews this month so I’ve been working on the ebook for it. As a result, this got away from me. Sorry!
As you can see, there wasn’t too much that I considered essential viewing. You should definitely watch The Old Dark House because it’s a classic and it’s also a lot of fun. Repo Man probably falls into the classic category at this point. Invasion of the Saucer Men is just a fun and silly film. Braid is one that stays with you. That’s quite an intense one. Look for it.
Most of the rest is pretty good. In particular, the two Bad News Bears films are always worth a look. They are both equally good. I saw I Was a Teenage Werewolf when I was a kid. My opinion hasn’t changed much. It’s not as much fun as it ought to be. It could be that I just don’t much like Landon in the lead. Or it could be that I never much care for these kinds of films.
Magic is surprisingly good. It’s no Devil Doll but what is? The Night of the Hunter is visually delightful. The two Pet Sematary films are fine. I have the recent remake sitting around here waiting to watch. Santo vs las Mujeres Vampiro was fun enough but you can do better in a Santo film.
I might have to rethink Troll. that was a lot of fun!
I didn’t do much this month because I’ve been putting together the Short Takes on Great Films: Capsule Reviews of Lesser-Known Films. Or whatever the final title is. This will be version 1.0. The idea is to correct the error of Michael J Weldon, who I quietly curse every time I guess wrong and open the wrong of his two books. Anyway, I did write about a few films.
The main thing to note here is that The Night of the Virgin is a fantastic horror-comedy out of Spain. Yet more evidence that this is a golden age of international horror. It does have a couple of gag-inducing scenes. But if I can make it through them, anyone can.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is, of course, a classic. And I think everyone should watch it just for Clint Howard. But at this time, it isn’t essential viewing. It is, however, a whole lot of fun.
And then we get to the Tremors franchise. I just loved the first four films. Not that they are essential viewing either. They are just silly horror-comedies. But they are irresistible. And I’d encourage everyone to watch them. In fact, I think the second, third, and fourth films are better than the first!
The problem comes with Tremors 5. The whole franchise is under new ownership and the films become typical action films. Sure, there’s comedy! But it’s of the one-liner variety that we know so well of dozens of forgettable action films of the past. All the charm is gone.
Pretty good month for films. The standout was Benny Loves You, the best killer-puppet film I’ve ever seen. And, you know, I’m seen a lot of them. They are kind of my thing. I love puppets and I love gore. It’s my subgenre.
Also of note is the BBC production Ghostwatch. It’s very effective but it’s mostly interesting in that it was presented as a regular show and apparently terrified the people of UK.
Another great one is The People Under the Stairs. Even when Wes Craven is bad he’s good. And this one is tremendous fun. It’s an interesting contrast to The Goonies, which is hard to sit through.
Sugar Hillis also a whole lot of fun — the lighter side of Blaxploitation. And I revisited Silent Hill, which is as good as I remember.
Finally, if you’ve never seen it, you really must see Them!It is the first and best of the giant bug films.
What this month lacked in total movies it made up for in quality. Some surprised include Curse of the Fly, the third in the series and probably the best. We also did the first two Blind Zombie films. The next two will be on next month’s list. And then there was a delightful newer film Vicious Fun. Of course, that kind of film is clearly made with people like me in mind.
All and all, it was a weak month for films. But there were some highlights. Get Out, of course, is a wonderful film. I haven’t seen anything else from Jordan Peele but I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Martyrs Lane is just a fantastic film that I loved when I saw it and has only gotten better as I look back on it. The Tenant is a really slow film but it builds well and really leaves an impact. Zombi 3 is a fairly typical Fulci film, but of course, that’s great.
The Spirits of Jupiter and Spookies are the kinds of films this site is all about. They are both weird and brilliant. Find them both!
I like M Night Shyamalan’s work. He’s a very capable writer-director. What’s more, I like The Happening, which almost everyone seems to despise. But he does tend to waste a lot of money. I think his films would usually be better if he had less to spend. And this was very much on display in the Jeep crash scene from that film. I couldn’t help but compare it to the notorious meathook scene from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Now, you may think this is unfair. After all, this is one of the greatest scenes ever created for a movie. But I think it is still worth doing. This is a scene that cost almost nothing to shoot. It involves two camera setups. It was probably shot in an afternoon. Yet it is visceral in its impact.
This is exactly the opposite of the jeep crash scene in The Happening. It relies on motion-controlled cameras, computer graphics, stunt workers, and doubtless cost hundreds of thousand dollars — if not more. Yet it has no real impact on the viewer. It doesn’t even need to be in the film except to provide the film’s heartwarming epilog.
Meathook Scene: Shot by Shot
There are many things that make this scene one of the most frightening in movie history. There’s the excellent acting, the incredible music, and the context coming right after Pam (Teri McMinn) flees the “chicken” room. But I want to focus on the shots, which may be brilliant, but only in their simplicity.
The first shot is from above and behind a row of two meathooks. One is prominent in the foreground — slightly out of focus. We see Leatherface carrying Pam, who is screaming and struggling, into the room. He carries her toward the hook.
Cut to the reverse angle, from floor height. Leatherface continues to carry Pam to the hook, lifting her up as if to impale her on it.
Cut back to the first angle. The hook is in the foreground, Pam’s back is brought down toward the hook. This shot is very short — perhaps a quarter second.
Cut to the second angle but swifted so that the camera is directly in front of Pam. Leatherface releases her body, which comes down starply, apparently impaled on the hook.
Axial cut to close-up of Pam screeming.
Why the Meat Hook Scene Works
I think one big reason the whole film works is that it comes across as cinéma vérité. Yet as this scene shows, it is nothing of the sort. But it does have a certain documentary simplicity. The camera is always on a tripod here. It never pushes in, zooms, or even pans.
What’s probably most important here is that the movement of Pam is seamless. As the second shot ends, Pam has been lifted as high as Leatherface can manage. Throughout the third shot, he lowers her. At the start of the fourth shot, she is coming down and then is dropped. To the viewer, it seems like a single shot.
Of course, it is in that fourth shot when Pam is dropped that makes it seem real. This is doubtless because Pam actually is being impaled. Gunnar Hansen really is putting the harness that McMinn is wearing on that hook. There’s even a little natural bounce that sells it.
To some extent, this is an example of practical effects being easier. That whole final “hooked” shot would be hard to make work if it had to be animated. But other than wearing the harness, there really is no “movie magic” in this scene. It’s doubtful it could be any simpler.
Jeep Crash Scene: Shot by Shot
I can’t really do a shot-by-shot analysis of the Jeep crash scene because it is all done in one shot. That is the problem! Let’s go through it.
It starts with a medium shot of the Jeep from the side. As the Jeep accelerates forward, the camera tracks with it.
The camera falls behind and pans with the Jeep as it drives into the tree.
The camera stops panning as the Jeep hits the tree and we see the driver fly out the front windshield.
John Leguizamo exits the Jeep while the camera zooms in and follows him.
The camera continues to zoom as he sets down and cuts his wrist.
A Technical Achievement!
There is a 10-minute documentary on the DVD that goes over the process. Basically, they use motion-controlled cameras. Then they composite them into the final scene.
Why did they do this? They spent a lot of time and money to make the scene happen in one shot. It’s 16 seconds from when the Jeep takes off to when we see Leguizamo leave the car. I doubt many people even notice it is in one shot. If they do, I don’t see how they would care.
The biggest problem here is that the most important part of it is in long-shot. Two people are thrown from the Jeep but we only barely see the second and that is after the body has landed. And despite 30 additional seconds of zooming, we see no detail of Leguizamo cutting his writs.
This is a perfect example of filmmakers pleasing themselves rather than the audience. Getting this scene was a technical accomplishment. But it deprived the audience of a great moment in the film.
A Better Jeep Crash Edit
I’m not a film editor. But I think it would have been more effective to eliminate the single-shot and get into the action. Following the crash, this would work better:
CU on Leguizamo as he stares emotionless.
POV of the dead bodies in front of the Jeep.
Medium on Leguzamo as he calmly opens the door.
Follow him as he notices something on the ground.
POV of broken glass.
CU on Leguzamo has he sits.
Tilt down to his hand holding a glass shard as he cuts into his wrist and blood flows.
Cut to other group.
Pretty standard idea there. It could probably be done with half the shots. But that would cut together in an effective way. The only problem: it wouldn’t have given the crew a tech boner.
Financial limitations often bring out the creativity in people. But that isn’t what’s going on here.
The people who made The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were just trying to make an effective film. The Happening was made by a bunch of jaded professionals. So why not have some fun with a technical challenge?
The problem is that after they spent the cost of a nice house on this technical feat, they had to use it in the film. And the film is worse for it.
Screen captures from the two films are used under Fair Use.
Godzilla vs Hedorahis one of the best Godzilla films. It’s just visually more interesting than they usually are. But note that I’m not a huge Godzilla fan.
Tammy and the T-Rexis a wonderfully silly and sweet film. It could so easily have missed the mark but it’s perfect and loads of fun. It’s the kind of film that Fred Olen Ray would have ruined.
Andrea told me An Unquiet Grave (only available on Shudder) was terrible so maybe my expectations were low. I kept watching it wondering when it would get bad. Instead, it just got better and better. It’s a wonderful film!
If you’ve ever wondered what a Nicolas Cage film would be like if he never spoke, you must watch Willy’s Wonderland. It’s a wonderful, funny, gory romp. The first half is particularly good.
You know how this goes. All the links go to the capsule review. The ones in bold typeface are what I consider must-see for psychotronic fans. I see that Dirty Harry is not bold. It’s just that the film hasn’t aged well. In fact, it’s hard to see what the fuss was about other than people reacting to what was (falsely) seen as an overly kind criminal justice system.
The real stand-out here is the George Romero film The Amusement Park. It’s shocking that he managed to get money for it. Amazing film with is kind of a documentary and kind of a horror film — but also not either.
Somehow, the Oblivion films got placed in two different months. So let me be clear just how much I like them. Sam Irvin is one of those great directors who’s quietly built up quite the collection of films. These two films were made back-to-back in Romania — something Full Moon did a lot but rarely with this much success. You should see them!
Carnival of Souls is a classic. Everyone who loves horror should see it. But I do understand that it’s my kind of film. I prefer films that don’t bother to explain themselves because the explanations usually just trivialize things. This one might be even better if it didn’t feature the final reveal, even though it is very cool.
I featured two Russ Meyer films this month. I don’t think he gets enough credit. Everyone thinks of him as a sex filmmaker. But despite some notable exceptions, I think he is primarily a comedic filmmaker. He’s also very talented as a visual storyteller — a lot more talented than some “great” filmmakers I could mention.
And then we have Bride of Re-Animator. Watching it made me think that Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive was kind of a rip-off. Clearly, Bride is not as good as the original, but it’s still a damned fine film. Brian Yuzna is really good. I’ve been meaning to watch his Dentist films.
As usual, the films in bold are ones I think all genre fans should watch. Click on the links to go to the capsule reviews. Otherwise, I take no blame for you sitting through Blackenstein.
We managed to write 45 capsule reviews last month. That involved watching all of the Mad Max films. I was pleased to see that only Beyond Thunderdome didn’t hold up. And I doubt seriously it was any better at the time of its release. It really comes off as a parody of the other films.
As usual, in the list below, the films in bold are particularly good and worth seeking out. There’s still a lot of worthy stuff outside of that, but there are too many films and not enough time…