Note: this diary features plenty of spoilers. Don’t read it if that bothers you!
I just watched Hobgoblins (1988) again. It’s almost universally considered bad — even by auteur Rick Sloane himself. But when I’ve asked people why they think it’s bad, they mention that it’s cheesy or that the acting is bad. I don’t think that’s it.
It’s not like the film is trying to be serious and comes off cheesy. It’s meant to be cheesy. And the acting is exactly in keeping with that. The problem is how the film looks. The minimal art direction still kinda works. But the shot selection?! Dear God!
The film is a mix of medium-long and long shots. It’s like watching a filmed play except worse because you’re constantly cutting from one dull shot to another. Additionally, most shots are under-lit and always lit in an uninteresting way.
It’s also edited badly. There’s easily 20 minutes here that could be cut down. The second half of the film drags. And that would make it around 70 minutes long — appropriate for this kind of film.
Having said all that, there are a lot of wonderful elements to this film. Kenneth J Hall’s puppets are great! There are some genuinely funny moments even if they are undercut by the editing. And I am struck by the humanity on display in the film — especially the character of McCreedy and his care for the coming generation.
Most of Rick Sloane’s later films are shot by others so they might be worth checking out. He continued to edit them, so I can just hope that he got better. Stay tuned!
25 July 2021
In Pale Rider (1985), when the four thugs attack everyman Michael Moriarty, they do it in unison. But when hero Clint Eastwood shows up, they can only manage to attack serially. It’s telling of the romantic hero archetype. It’s bullshit of course but also dangerous propaganda.
A good contrast to this is Matewan (1987). It’s a film filled with heroes and even one badass but it is explicitly about collective action. Of course, it is about a real event. And it was written by John Sayles.
I liked Pale Rider when I was young. Now it makes me think it came out of an incel forum. Sarah acts more like a teen with her first crush than a 40-year-old woman with a daughter abandoned by her husband.
Clint Eastwood is a competent film actor and a handsome man. But he is so limited! It makes me think of the line from My Favorite Year (1982), “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”
It was hard to finish this film. So much of it made me cringe. It could be cut down by a quarter. It’s basically just Shane (1953) with a slight supernatural element. It’s like Eastwood was thinking, “Let’s make High Plains Drifter — but insipid and boring!” If so, he succeeded!
13 June 2021
I first saw Zombie Nightmare on MST3K and I didn’t think much about it. But just watching it now, I like it. It made me reflect on why the focus of film reviews is generally negative. It’s not just that people like reading negative reviews. It’s relatively easy to say why something doesn’t work. But saying why something does work is a lot harder.
That’s definitely true here. The screenplay is pretty good but it needs work. A big problem is that the final reveal comes in the form of dialog. They really should have made it clear without that. It also lacks any kind of point-of-view. The good cop is nominally the main character but doesn’t show up until halfway through and isn’t that important. We could also have used more comedy of the kind they gave to Dean Hagopian as the medical examiner.
But despite its problems (and there are others), the film works. Why? I really don’t know. The acting is good — at least when it comes to the principals. And much of the editing (by David Franco who went on to an incredible career as a cinematographer) often works really well. But all that could be fine and the film still not work.
6 June 2021
Most people prefer movies that are consistent — praising a film that is meh all the way through over a film that is mostly meh but features moments of brilliance. I am, of course, not like that. I’d rather see a film that is stupid and boring for 90 percent of its running time if the other 10 percent is inspired.
If you’re like me, you should watch Umberto Lenzi’s Ghosthouse. Most of the film isn’t much. In fact, it has too much personal conflict for my taste. But the set pieces are fantastic. One scene really stands out. One of the women is cut in half. Then we see the two halves of her body far away from each other, with a chair blocking the center. It was thrilling to watch.
But I totally see why most people don’t like this film. The plot rambles. The characters act in ways that make no sense except in that they are trying to set up cool horror scenes. But it’s never dull and it pays off well.
3 June 2021
The Zombieland Films
I made the mistake of watching the two Zombieland films back-to-back. In the first 3 minutes, they spend more money on unnecessary effects than the entire budgets of other better zombie films (eg, The Dead Next Door). Not that it’s bad; just that the film would be as good if they’d spent less.
I checked and the reviews on the first film were really good. Typical of critics to have their heads up their asses. Again: not that it’s bad. It’s just generic with middle-of-the-road humor. Given how pretentious critics are, you’d think they’d notice this film is meh.
I’ve been rethinking the concept of psychotronic given that now films with psychotronic pretenses get excessive elite praise. The Hollywood psychotronic removes the soul of such films and replaces them with cash. And that seems to please everyone involved.
The first film ends with the two women abandoning the men and then going to a theme park in a way that looks more like a suicide attempt than anything else. It’s just tacked on because there are no other clear ways to end the film. It’s not like they’ve set up the zombies as a terrible threat. So it’s necessary for the characters to ring the dinner bell for hundreds of zombies. In the second film, they introduce the concept of a kind of super-zombie, but never really use it until the end where again they ring the dinner bell for more forced conflict.
There is a problem throughout both films. They feature attacks of far too many zombies but then manage to have the characters dispatch them — mostly off-screen. The truth is that neither film is very interested in zombies. They are just a convenient setup. Neither film needs to have zombies at all. It is well established that as long as the characters don’t actively court the zombies there is no threat. So the conflict could be anything. They could be on the run after a bank robbery. Or searching for some treasure. Whatever really.
Worst of all, the second film is highly reactionary. It features a bunch of pacifist hippies who are presented as clueless or worse. The anti-hippy jokes that were tired in the 1980s. The main hippy has to be shown to be a liar. I’m still shocked that so many people like these films.
25 May 2021
American Mary (2012) is a film that seems like it was specifically created to disturb me. First, it’s about body modification — something I don’t like and don’t understand. And it shows the descent of a likeable character into psychopathy. Ultimately, I think it is an indictment of modern medicine where being a psychopath is actually a good thing.
It reminds me a lot of Crash (1996). Except in this case, the disturbing behavior actually exists. Stylistically, the film is much more like David Lynch. That’s both in its visual sense but also in a story that doesn’t always focus on the plot. This is despite the fact that the film has more than enough plot. But the directors just aren’t that interested in the plot.
Overall, it’s an exceptional piece of filmmaking. It’s everything it intends to be including being darkly humorous. Jen and Sylvia Soska who wrote and directed it also created Dead Hooker in a Trunk, which I must now see even though I doubt I will “enjoy” it.
22 May 2021
The Working Director
It’s interesting to watch the careers of working directors — people who direct several films per year. They do really diverse stuff. In particular, you will see people who do softcore porn as well as family films. Filmmaking is not glamorous. It’s just a job.
Gary Graver was a great example of this. He is best known as Orson Welles’ last cinematographer/cameraman. And I know him for films like Trick or Treats (1982) and shooting films for Fred Olen Ray (another of these working directors). But mostly, Gaver directed and shot a lot of porn.
He had families to support and bills to pay. I doubt Welles ever paid him a dime. Anyway, I’m fascinated by these kinds of people. Regardless where you start in any field, you will almost certainly end up doing crap for cash.
11 May 2021
Mad Max Day
I watch the second and third Mad Max films yesterday
The Road Warrior
In Mad Max 2, all the people are dirty but the farm animals are spotless. Hardly the only unbelievable thing in a Mad Max film. But interesting.
All the ridiculousness of later similar films (eg, Waterworld) comes back to this film. I think it works fine here but of all the things to take from this film, the cheap villain theatrics was the least worthy. That reminds me: I’ve been meaning to buy a new boomerang.
The problem with all films like this is that the bad guys supposedly care for nothing but their survival. Yet when in pursuit, they act as though they don’t care if they live or die. It doesn’t make for great villains, which is why we don’t remember any except for Tina Turner who breaks from that model.
After all the cruelty on display in this film, it’s still shocking when they kill the dog.
So after Max has spent the last 70 minutes treating him like shit, the gyro captain comes to the rescue? I don’t like these definitionally Good Guys. Max is an asshole. No one would go looking for him.
Despite all my complaining, Mad Max 2 is an excellent film. It has a few dead spots and would be better perhaps 10 minutes shorter. But it’s very fun. And the stunt work is spectacular.
Now I’m watching Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) because I’m insane. Science fiction filmmakers really need to learn some thermodynamics. Just saying.
This thing is shot on 70 mm film and still it looks like crap. The sets are over-complicated and ugly. Too many scenes are in the dark. It might look great projected but it doesn’t translate to video.
I would like this film so much more if I could convince myself that it was meant to be a parody of the first two films. It clearly isn’t. But I’m afraid that sequels do tend toward parody the longer they go on. (rclouse3 on Twitter noted, “I think Fury Road refutes that.” He’s right that it’s a fantastic film. But I countered that it is more a remake of Mad Max 2, and effectively a reboot. We kind of settled on the idea that Fury Road isn’t really a Mad Max film. The character seems tacked on.)
And now I’m having flashbacks of the Star Trek episode “And the Children Shall Lead.” I’m expecting to hear them chanting: “Far away, for to see! Friendly angel, come to me!”
“Plan?! There ain’t no plan!” I think that may sum up the production. But in the film’s defense, it was made following producer Byron Kennedy’s death while location scouting.
16 April 2021
I Care a Lot and More
I Care a Lot It got good reviews. But I suspect it is the kind of movie that is better liked by cynical film-goers. I found it painful to sit through with an almost unwatchable final act. That’s not to say it is bad. It’s well-made. I just didn’t find it an enjoyable experience.
It reminded me of Beaches (1988) in that I felt that I was being manipulated effectively but for no good reason. And it’s supposed to be a comedy. It does have it’s moments, but tonally, it’s all over the place. It’s a film by someone who loved Seven Psychopaths (2012) but didn’t realize it was a comedy.
I’ve discovered a bizarre Romanian rock musical from the Soviet period called Rock’n’Roll Wolf. I haven’t seen it yet but here’s the film:
25 March 2021
Body Bags (1993)
I watched this with Andrea today. I’ve always thought the middle section was weak but watching it with her highlighted just how funny it is. I think it was hard for me to experience this fully alone because Stacy Keach plays such a pathetic character. Overall, the film is great. And John Carpenter as “the crypt keeper” is wonderfully over-the-top.
16 March 2021
Scoring at the Junk Store!
At the junk store, I got 6 sealed Full Moon DVDs for $1 each:
- Robot Wars (1993)
- Mandroid (1993)
- Crash and Burn (1990)
- Murdercycle (1999)
- Oblivion (1994)
- Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity (1987)
I also got Creepozoids (1987) on Blu-ray for $3. I already own it but at that price, I had to grab it. I’ll find a nice home for it.
12 March 2021
From Hell (2001)
I just watched this take on Jack the Ripper. It’s good. Very engaging. I think it would be better if they didn’t make it about the real-life murderer.
11 March 2021
Stay Out of the F**king Attic (2021)
There is much that I didn’t like about this but it really is all about the screenplay. Apart from that, this is a fabulous film. I think if this crew made a horror-comedy, it might end up as a classic. These are definitely people worth paying attention to going forward.
11 March 2021
The Dark and the Wicked (2020)
I just watched The Dark and the Wicked. It’s a Shudder Original. It’s wonderful!
10 March 2021
The Ghost Writer (2010)
The Ghost Writer (2010) is streaming for free. I thought I saw it at the time and quite liked it. But didn’t really understand the ending.
I turned out that I had only seen the very end of it — maybe 20 minutes worth. Now I think I understand the ending. It’s like Three Days of the Condor (1975) with government’s doing nasty things in secret.
But the paranoid films of the 1970s were based on typical kinds of conspiracies. The government, for example, won’t let the truth come out. The Ghost Writer posits something much darker: that there is no one truth to come out. So the ending is perfect.
My one complaint is that the mechanism for the final reveal is ridiculous. But the truth is that the final reveal isn’t even necessary. The film explains everything without it although it would eliminate the metaphoric impact of the final scene with the pages blowing down the street.
25 February 2021
Blood Beat (1983)
This is an amazing film. It’s up there with Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It’s such a bizarre idea. A young woman staying with her boyfriend at his parents’ house is possessed by the ghost of a samurai. Or something. Not much is explained, but wow!
24 February 2021
The Aztec Mummy (1957)
I was shocked at how much I liked this. It’s produced in a 1930s style, which was probably obvious to filmgoers who saw it in the theater. It isn’t as clear now.
But the main thing is that it isn’t some low-budget quicky. The budget is clearly fairly low, as I suspect was generally true of Mexican productions at that time. But it has good (if limited) sets and a professional cast. And gobs of atmosphere.
It’s hard to find this one right now. I ended up watching the Spanish-language version. You can find it by searching for La Momia Azteca. It’s not hard to follow. And toward the end, there is no dialog anyway.
22 February 2021
Aztec Mummy Trilogy
There’s a lot of confusion about when these films were released. So here are the dates there were released in Mexico:
- The Aztec Mummy (13 November 1957)
- The Curse of the Aztec Mummy (11 December 1957)
- The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy (17 July 1958)
Michael Weldon thought Robot was the second film. That isn’t a criticism. He’s normally authoritative. It’s amazing the information he had at that time.
22 February 2021
I just got the SHOUT! Factory Ravenous Blu-ray. The film is one of those wonderful genre-bending works that combines (among others) horror, action, and most of all: western and comedy. (The ending section parodies the gunfight in a wonderfully gruesome way!)
Because of this, I had to look at the reviews. A lot of them were good, but I didn’t read any of those. The bad ones were just what I expected.
When an unusual film comes along, you would think that a film critic would be careful about dismissing it. After all, in one viewing when the critic might have been distracted or worse, isn’t it possible they missed something? Remember, the people who made the film watched it over and over and over. If I were a film critic, I’d worry that my review wouldn’t age well.
Edward Guthmann’s review is typical. In mid-March, he claims it is candidate for “worst movie of the year.” He then makes vague criticisms of the film — as usual, things he could have as easily applauded the film for. The different elements of the film are “poorly balanced.” But had he been having a good day, he would have said that the elements “highlighted at different times lead to a profound synergy” (or some other bit of film critic horseshit).
He then goes on to discuss the production history of the film. This is a favorite of hacks everywhere. A “troubled” production means you can dismiss the film before you ever see it! Very rarely a critic will claim that a film triumphs its production problems. It doesn’t matter to me; it doesn’t belong in a review and shows how shallow film critics are.
Ultimately, Guthmann’s real problem is that he doesn’t like the subject and genre. And you know: fine! But maybe don’t go around complaining about a film you would never have liked!
21 February 2021
Teenage Zombies (1959)
Pretty standard but above-average 1950s sci-fi film. It stars Don Sullivan, the singing star of Ray Kellogg’s The Giant Gila Monster. I also watched William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III, which is way better.
20 February 2021
Lords Of Salem (2013)
In Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie shows that he can do Stanley Kubrick and plenty of other directors serially. But mostly he presents us with Clive Barker but without any of the fun. This is a visually stunning film, which makes it all the more disappointing that the plot is as simple as can be with absolutely pointless subplots and characters. I actually enjoyed Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) far more.
18 February 2021
12 Angry Men (1997)
YouTube Movies is streaming the 1997 remake of 12 Angry Men with Jack Lemmon. I think the original is better. But this version is still excellent. It had me sobbing at the end.
16 February 2021
Mesa of Lost Women (1953)
Tonight, I’m watching Mesa of Lost Women. It’s a remarkable film starring Jackie Coogan. The great Dolores Fuller is an extra in it.
16 February 2021
My Alien Girlfriend (2019)
This is a surprisingly funny and sweet film. I had the plot nailed in about 10 minutes. If I’d watched it with Andrea, it probably would have been 5. But that’s not a criticism. It means it was well-written.
10 February 2021
Save Our Skins (2014)
I found this BBC DVD Save Our Skins at the dollar store. It lives and dies with the two principal actors. And it lives! Pretty fun film — especially for a buck!
9 February 2021
King Kong (1976) Again
I watched King Kong (1976) again. This is the first time I watched it with a positive attitude. And it really is rather good. I am not fond of the presentation of the natives of Skull Island, but they aren’t any worse than in the Peter Jackson King Kong. The worst thing in that regard is the female lead. Dwan (the Ann Darrow character) is annoying because she acts more like a 13-year-old than a 26-year-old.
The main thing that surprised me was how much this film is filled with 1970s-ear cynicism. And Fred S Wilson (the Carl Denham character) gets squashed, although that does mean that we don’t get the line, “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.” But given the nature of the film, that’s probably for the best.
9 February 2021
More Thoughts on Gappa
This film has a distinct anti-commerce undertone. I’m still trying to find out who played the publisher, but the character itself is evil, petty, and cowardly. If the film were made today, conservatives would complain that it was ridiculing Donald Trump.
There was a big scene where Kurosaki acts like a dick and now it looks like Tonooka is the star of the film — besides Gappa, of course.
It has one of those awesome science fiction film moments when it explains part of the plot that doesn’t need explaining. It turns out that Gappa has a homing thing, which is what explains its parents being able to find it. As if anyone would have been wondering this after they saw the film. “Dinosaur with beak that lives alone on an island, sure. But how did they find the baby?!”
Gappa is a whole lot like Gamera with a beak.
The miniature sets are fantastic in this film. And they do a lot of great work with compositing.
There’s an unusual romantic relationship between a young female and two slightly older males. She kind of likes both and both try to convince her that she’s in love with the other.
Finally, I got the name of publisher: President Funazu. IMDb says that the part is played by Keisuke Inoue. I assume it is the same person who was in Onna to Otoko No Ajikurabe (1968).
The last 10 minutes of Gappa was hard going. But it was nothing compared to the 1-minute resolution of the romantic plot.
Gappa the Triphibian Monsters
I’m trying to keep track of the characters since I don’t recognize anyone in this film.
- Hiroshi Kurosaki seems to be the main character
- Itoko Koyanagi is the female lead — the expedition’s photographer.
- Saburo Hayashi is the deckhand and comic relief
- Prof. Daize Tonooka is the bird doctor
- George Inoue is one of the professor’s lab assistants
- Lieutenant is part of the crew (not listed as such in credits)
3 February 2021
I’m watching Gorgo and it is a good reminder that the early monster movies were really quite serious and well-made. The campiness comes later. You can only take these monsters seriously for so long.
There some great back-projection in a tank. It looks surprisingly good.
So Gorgo can hold a diving pod down so they can’t pull it up, but they have no problem putting a net around Gorgo and pulling it up. I know! I need to stop applying physics to films!
History shows again and again
How Gorko’s mom can fuck up London!
2 February 2021
Politically, I’m on the left. So when I heard that Ben Shapiro was distributing a film called Run Hide Fight, I rolled my eyes. But when I read about the film, it sounded like a completely reasonable psychotronic film. If bad taste was disqualifying, what would people like me have to enjoy?
So I decided to check out the work of its director, Kyle Rankin. I found Night of the Living Deb (2015) on Amazon Prime. It’s very well made and funny. There is no doubt that Rankin is good at his job.
Unfortunately, the film is also produced to appeal to conservatives. It refers to a young liberal man who refuses to join his father’s evil company as an “elitist.” The evil father is portrayed as a good guy who the evil governor bought-off. It shows evil security contractors rather than the army.
But it isn’t totally slanted that way. It seems that the filmmakers are trying to thread the needle. I don’t blame them for doing what they have to do to get the money. I prefer films with more guts. And also: films that neither try to offend me nor try not to offend me.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of Rankin’s films even if it seems doubtful that I’ll ever be excited. Maybe some of his early films?
31 January 2021
Betrayed by Don’t Go in the Woods (2010)
Don’t Go in the Woods (2010) is a well-made film. But it’s annoying. I remember in The Sixth Sense (1999), the producers worked hard not to allow anything in the film that deceived the watcher. For example, when Bruce Willis sits down with his wife at dinner, he doesn’t move the chair. You know: he’s a ghost and he couldn’t move the chair. When you first see it, it wouldn’t bother you. But if you watched it again, you’d call foul.
But Don’t Go in the Woods does not play by the rules. For example, it cross-cuts between the killer in one location and a character who turns out to be the killer in another location. This would be fine if the film had set up an unreliable narrator. But it didn’t. (In fact, it isn’t directed from a single perspective.)
In addition to this, the plot makes no sense. Why bring everyone out to the woods and then play this game with them? You don’t want the women there so why kill the ones who try to leave? Why prevent the others from leaving? Why kill the manager? Because they “know” and now must be killed? That assumes that none of the dozen people that were killed told anyone else they were going there.
And if the whole thing is meant to be a metaphor for what you have to do to gain stardom, who cares? Why the fuck did you waste 100 minutes of my life?! (Actually, quite a bit more; but 100 minutes of most viewer’s lives.) You are much better off watching Starry Eyes (2014). See my review.
30 January 2021
Watching Don’t Go in the Woods Again
I watched Don’t Go in the Woods (1981). The main thing I noticed was that the print was terrible (I watched it on YouTube). But when I went to write about it, I found that I already had. I fear I’m losing my edge because I had a lot nicer things to say about it then. Watching too many films can make you immune to the fact that there is so much worthwhile stuff. But obviously, the fact that I didn’t remember the film doesn’t speak terribly well for it.
30 January 2021
The Coda of The House of the Devil
I try to keep the capsule reviews clean so I only mentioned the coda on The House of the Devil in passing. But it’s really annoying. The film has a fantastic ending. She realizes that Satan has taken her over or impregnated her (it isn’t clear but given earlier dialog, the latter is most likely). So she shoots herself in the head. I loved that!
Then we get this awful coda where she’s in the hospital with a badly wounded head and a nurse indicates that she is pregnant. First, it offends me because I feel like the filmmakers are assuming I didn’t pick up on that. And second, it makes the brilliant decision to kill herself meaningless.
Perhaps worst of all, it got me thinking about the plot. Why did the couple leave her alone in the house? Why not just kidnap her right then? Going down that avenue of thought, I concluded that the whole plot was just a con.
I still think the film is good. But the coda is nearly fatal. See my review.
29 January 2021
Don’t See Don’t Go in the Woods
Kid Phantasm (Great name!) on Twitter alerted me to a film, Don’t Go in the Woods (1981). He wrote, “A terrible rip off of Friday the 13th. Poorly executed kills. Poor characters. Some really awful acting. Don’t waste your time.” So, of course, I have to see it!
27 January 2021
And More Fred Olen Ray Porn
I watched Twilight Vamps (2010) because it came on the same Blu-ray as Bikini Frankenstein (2010). These two films were made along with Bikini Royale 2, Bikini Jones and the Temple of Eros, and Housewives from Another World. They were all made under the same name, Nicholas Medina, so as not to soil the good name of Fred Olen Ray. See my review.
26 January 2021
Fred Olen Ray’s Softcore Porn
I finished last night by watching Bikini Frankenstein (2010) — a Fred Olen Ray softcore porn film. I’m getting really tired of Ray’s work. He is capable of doing great things. But he very rarely bothers to.
The film is 73 minutes without credits and it’s about 70% sex scenes. There isn’t enough coverage in many scenes, leading to some jump cuts. Some of the comedy is pretty good but mostly it’s standard Ray stuff.
Ray did a couple of these around 2010. There are similar films by Jim Wynorski (eg, The Hills Have Thighs). All made under other names. I figure there was money temporarily for this kind of thing — seeing if there was a demand for it. Since they aren’t doing this kind of thing anymore, I assume there wasn’t.
25 January 2021
Another Zombie Comedy
First, I hate the term zom-com. And I am getting kind of tired of these films. But I put on Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse (2015). I can’t help but notice that almost every scene with Jim Jefferies was shot with him alone. I assume they had him for only a day — and an inconvenient one at that. But at this low of a budget, it’s amazing they got him at all. The film’s okay. Personally, I found I Survived a Zombie Holocaust (2014) more entertaining. And the end of this one dragged. But it’s definitely well-made. See my review.
24 January 2021
1970s Hong Kong Monster Movie: The Oily Maniac
This is a sweet find. A man with Polio, who has to use crutches to walk, learns a magic spell that turns him into a kind of oil monster. He can turn into a puddle (animated) that can move really fast. It’s very efficient. Director Meng-Hua Ho made The Mighty Peking Man the next year. See my review.
24 January 2021
Just Watched Rat Fink
Retromedia recently released Rat Fink (1965) on Blu-ray. It was supposedly lost. It’s a surprisingly well-made film. It’s a pretty typical bad-boy film but there is one scene that goes beyond the genre where the main character sets his rival on fire. Pretty amazing scene. And the guy doesn’t die so it’s all the worse. See my review.
23 January 2021