The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XXXVI – Halloween 2019

It’s Halloween and I am watching some spooky movies about it. As always, the films are ranked in order of what I thought of them. If you’re looking for something to watch, there’s a few in here that are definitely memorable.

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19. I hope you like more underwater footage than Thunderball. This is Beyond Atlantis (1973). And good grief is there a lot of swimming. Here’s the plot: a bunch of slimy city folk (including the late Sid Haig playing a character named East Eddie) travel to an island inhabited by a tribe of people with huge eyeballs to collect priceless pearls. Sid Haig and hot bikini bods (mainly Leigh Christian) make this Filipino-American flick sporadically watchable, but a bit tedious.

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18. I think it’s fairly apparent that I am a ravenous Redlettermedia fan. They are living the dream. And they recommended Suburban Sasquatch (2004). So I watched it. Most of it. It is so laughably amateurish that it becomes more of a slog to sit through. It’s tepid and boring and vaguely Christian. Bigfoot sucks. He sucks as a character. He sucks as a cryptoid. I hate it. This movie had us laughing out loud at quite a few parts, but it just becomes so repetitive and profoundly ugly to look at that all the hammy acting and cheesy dialogue in the world can’t justify the product as a whole. Perhaps I will finish the last 20 minutes. But I don’t feel any pressing need to.

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17. R.O.T.O.R. (1987) is another sci-fi B-movie with some funny moments (that stupid mouthy robot in the picture is a highlight) but ultimately not very memorable. It’s derivative of Terminator and Robocop, but there are a few laughs to be had. Fun fact: the title “R.O.T.O.R” stands for Robotic Officer of the Tactical Operations Research/Reserve Unit. For reference, the rest of the film is just as clunky.

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16. What a series. I keep watching Howling sequels, guys. I still haven’t seen the acclaimed Joe Dante original. But this series is a trip. Each new entry is bad in remarkably different ways. Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is still my favorite (mainly because the of killer song, Sybil Danning, Christopher Lee, and its unabashed sleaziness). Howling III: The Marsupials is easily the stupidest (and most objectionable – straight up marsupial werewolf birthing sequence). Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is the most uninspired and boring. And now, Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) gets a few points from me. Perhaps the most ambitious in its first act. It assembles a gaggle of unlikable haircuts that have been selected to tour an ancient castle in Hungary. A castle that was abandoned 500 years ago. A castle that’s cursed. Yes, it’s stupid and almost entirely bloodless with only slightly more werewolf sightings that Howling IV, but the castle is neat and it has actual cinematography. You’ll be begging for it to end by the third kill, but you’ll keep watching because it’s The Howling.

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15. I like Zach Galifianakis. I think he’s a very comical actor with a lot more talent and personal whimsy than Hollywood knows what to do with. Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019) takes Zach’s webseries: a celebrity interview show riffing on public access programming, and stretches it as far as it can go. It’s not bad, but less is more with this concept maybe. Is Zach an oblivious oaf bumbling over poorly constructed interview questions or is he a cunning critic playfully skewering the rich and famous? The movie informs us he is somehow both. And it doesn’t exactly work. It has some good humor, but the hardest I laughed was at the outtakes during the end credits and I think that’s because that’s when it was the most genuine. The template of a phony interview show, giving the host an opening to roast his subjects is classic, but as an engaging narrative subject, it’s on wobbly ground. Somewhere between Jiminy Glick, Ali G, and Eric Andre is Zach Galifianakis. Sitting, awkwardly, between two ferns.

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14. A deaf woman is trapped in a waking nightmare when a murderous lunatic stumbles on her house in the woods and decides to psychologically torture her as he gets closer and closer in Hush (2016). It’s pretty direct and minimalist and gets the job done with a small cast in a single setting and it does it effectively. There’s a bit of ham, but it taps into that primal fear of being watched and having your privacy stolen. Once the killer removes his mask (way too early), the movie never feels as sharp, but it still works well enough.

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13. Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017) starts off as a tale of a quiet wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and an intense poet (Jarvier Bardem) living in an idyllic house in the country. When the poet allows a stranger (Ed Harris) to stay in their house, things get awkward. As he overstays his welcome and invites more people, it takes a toll on the wife (the centerpiece of the film and whose perspective all of the action is viewed from). About a third of the way in, the symbolism gets so heavy-handed that you begin to see what the whole thing is about. Sort of. But I feel like this movie, while thought provoking and dealing with interesting themes (many of which I genuinely want to see explored more in cinema), gets mired in its own pretentiousness and shocking grimness. Is it art? Yes. Do I want to see it again? No?

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12. I re-watched Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) with some mischievous tykes and, I gotta say, I think there’s a reason my mind blocked out the memory of the Mr. Toad segment. It not good. It’s beautifully animated, but as a story it simply goes nowhere and is no worthy adaptation of The Wind and the Willows. The Legend of Sleep Hollow part with Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen make up for a lot of time wasted though. I fun little dose of nostalgia. The last fifteen minutes are pure animation gold. Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby trade off narrating duties on these two classic literary tales.

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11. Ever since I saw Young Frankenstein I have been in love with Marty Feldman. Marty Feldman: Six Degrees of Separation (2006) is a BBC documentary on the memorable actor’s inspired and tragically short career. From his early days in radio and television to the good movies and the bad movies, this biography chronicles his struggles as an artist and his unrelenting humor, joy, and creativity.

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10. Tina Fey’s Mean Girls (2004) is a hot dose of high school anxiety. Lindsay Lohan is the new girl in school and she quickly gets sucked into the teenage drama of warring factions of duplicitous girls (and guys) all vying for status in what is indisputably the most important time in their lives. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s got a lot of pink. Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Lacey Chabert, and Tim Meadows round out the very funny cast.

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9. Did Spielberg secretly direct Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982)? Who cares? It’s great ghostly fun with wonderfully ghoulish special effects. When a typical suburban family starts to notice weird stuff happening in their house they defer to the experts to figure out what is going on. It’s ghosts. Zelda Rubenstein, JoBeth Williams, and Craig T. Nelson give great performances as well.

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8. Rob Zombie’s first film, House of 1000 Corpses (2002) is basically a haunted house ride turned into a movie. It’s aggressive, wacky, and steeped in a familiar Halloween atmosphere all while paying homage (or ripping off) classic scary movies, but with an extra coat of grime and whimsically mean-spirited edge. And it’s funny as hell. It’s a bit of a mess and it won’t be for everybody, but I kind of loved it. Features Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Rain Wilson, Karen Black, Walton Goggins, Tom Towles, and even more great faces.

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7. The Body Snatcher (1945), directed by Robert Wise and based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a classic horror yarn about grave robbing for medical research and the unseemly lot a man of science can find himself in all for the pursuit of greater surgical knowledge. Despite some typical period melodrama, the plot and characters are refreshingly complex. Stiff-lipped Henry Daniell gives a typically restrained but compelling performance as the medical instructor who is haunted by his guilt and Boris Karloff is glorious to behold as he connives and cajoles his way from scene to scene. Their relationship is more horror than all the cemetery desecration and skeletons combined. Bela Lugosi also has a small role as a quiet janitor who’s always listening.

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6. This next one is an indie flick that is rough around the edges, but well worth a look. Charles Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding (1983) is a gritty, human view of life in the ghetto. Pierce is a smart young man with little ambition and his friendship with seedy sorts puts him at odds with his family. At times funny, at times tragic, it’s the sort of unapologetic film that feels like a series of snapshots into the lives of real people. This is what independent cinema was made for.

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5. This movie sets up a brilliantly wacky premise and just keeps delivering with creative twists and turns the whole way through. Dave Made a Maze (2017) is about a cardboard labyrinth that takes on a life of its own and traps its creator and his friends in a deadly world of dead-ends and booby traps. The movie loses me a bit with its heavy-handed metaphors for artists and their creations (not nearly as bad as Mother! though), but its charm, levity, and genuine originality push it to something great and truly memorable. Inspired verbal and visual comedy, a somewhat sappy earnestness, and a raging Minotaur make this whimsical horror comedy an adventure you won’t want to miss.

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4. Tales from the Hood (1995) is a brilliant horror anthology laced with scares and scathing social satire to spare. Clarence Williams III (who is fantastically over the top) plays a sinister funeral director who takes three gang members for a little ride through four tales of terror in order to teach them something. I saw the sequel first and thought it was cheesy but fun. This one is legit great and I loved it.

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3. This is how you do a remake. Dario Argento’s 1977 original film is a high octane, psychedelic, expressionistic horror house that, one may argue, is aggressively style-over-substance. It’s an unforgettable cult classic for a reason. Luca Guadagnino’s remake flips the script entirely and creates a more subdued arthouse horror more focused on unspoken drama and witch politics. While Suspiria (1977) is frenetic and vibrant, Suspiria (2018) is slow and sumptuous. The color palette is muted. The skies are gray and rainy. The Berlin wall looms just outside the windows of the creepy ballet academy. The twists are macabre and surprising, especially if you’ve seen the original. Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, and Mia Goth star and Jessica Harper (the lead from the original) makes a cameo. The only thing that I found a little jarring (in that it took me out of the film) was Professor Lutz Ebersdorf. I get it and it does create an eerie and sort of experimentally otherworldly atmosphere, but it kept distracting me because I couldn’t help but look for the reason behind the odd choice. Ultimately, I think it served the film well and I loved it.

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2. There’s something special about French science fiction (especially animation and comics) from the 70s and 80s. Moebius and others were undoubtedly a huge influence on the style and scope of surreal world building. Gandahar (1987) is very much in this vein. Directed by René Laloux, whose Fantastic Planet remains perhaps the most important sci-fi animation of all time; Gandahar (aka Light Years) is a lesser cousin, but still a wonderfully weird and transporting experience. It’s a tale of oppression and war, but much like Fantastic Planet, it is perhaps even more concerned with the mechanics of this fictitious universe it posits and the ecosystems and overlapping cultures of these alien planets. Time travel elements and the heady concepts explored make this a must see for fans of animated sci-fi. Some disputes over the soundtracks. I watched to the English dub which I believe had the American electronic score. It was good, but I would like to find the French version as well to compare.

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1. I was a big fan of Robert Eggers’ previous film, The Witch, so naturally I could not wait to see The Lighthouse (2019). Shot in glorious black and white on 35mm film and presented in 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the film instantly transports you into a different time period. The forgotten and windswept rock you are stuck on is cold and wet and miles and miles from any living soul save for the briny, old lighthouse keeper played by Willem Dafoe (who chews the scenery like it’s a dinner of lobster claws). Robert Pattinson plays his new assistant, a former lumberman looking to make a few bucks working on the remote, gull-tormented island. Together the two strange men will battle the elements, each other, and their own sanity. The Lighthouse works as a grim psychological horror or as a very black comedy about bad roommates. And it crashes like ice cold waves upon the jagged northeastern cliffs. It festers and blurs. Sexual nightmares of mermaids and guilt come and go as the two men grow further isolated from everything in this world. Unsettling to contemplate and gorgeous to look at.

BONUS SHORTS

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Rowan Atkinson plays an irritating little man who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will end his life in 30 minutes. Dead On Time (1983) shows him racing through the streets trying to fill the fleeting moments of his life with meaning. It’s a diverting little sketch that utilizes its premise well. Suspense, laughs, and a pure heart.

The Hour After Westerly (2019), directed by Nate Bell and Andrew Morehouse, follows a man who loses an hour trying to get home one night. Where did the missing hour go? And why does he keep having visions of a lighthouse? And who is this woman? Gorgeously shot and quietly introspective. Reminds me of The Twilight Zone.

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I hope you like weird anime short films. Cat Soup (2001), directed by Tatsuo Satō, is surreal, grim, bizarre, and cute. A cat travels to the land of the dead to rescue his sister after she drowns. The animation is inspired and beautiful.

Hope you enjoyed that and maybe picked up a movie suggestion or two. You know, as much as I wasn’t into Beyond Atlantis, I can’t deny it had one of the greatest freeze frame endings of all time. Happy Halloween, folks.

RIP Sid Haig

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