Film / TV


Stranger Things 2: The world is turning upside down

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Stranger Things 2 created by the Duffer Brothers

After its unexpected success last year, Stranger Things became an instant classic and fans have been clamouring for the release of the second series ever since. With its perfect combination of nostalgia, comedy and suspense, the show's creators, the Duffer Brothers, gave themselves a hell of a first series to follow up. So, did they manage to live up to the hype?

Sequels always present a conundrum: you want to give the fans more of what they want (and know), whilst simultaneously trying to create something new. Stranger Things 2 boldly begins with the unknown: our opening scenes start with a group of grungy misfits (eyeliner and mohawks galore) mid-robbery, that winds up in a police chase. It seems a far cry from the unnatural goings on at Hawkins, until one of the gro... Read More

Stranger Things: Scares and swoons, this show has it all

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Stranger Things created by the Duffer Brothers

Like The Hunger Games and Star Wars before it, Stranger Things is that rare breed of entertainment which becomes a franchise almost instantly upon release. What's more, it firmly established Netflix’s media strategy: The Binge. With the days of having to wait a week between episodes firmly over — and at a modest eight episodes long — some people managed to finish the first series in a day. So what winning formula managed to establish such a die-hard legion of fans?

On paper, Stranger Things shouldn’t really work. The show’s an indefinable blend of horror, humour, coming-of-age drama, science fiction, romance and mystery. When asked how they’d classify it, the Duffer Brothers themselves were unable to give a firm genre, and perhaps that is where the success of the show lies: there really is something for everyone... Read More

The Omen trilogy: Devilish good fun

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The Omen trilogy directed by Richard Donner, Don Taylor, Graham Baker

This viewer was a tad late in coming to the whole Omen phenomenon ... a good 30 years late, actually. But I have since eagerly made up for lost time and taken in the entire trilogy of films dealing with filmdom's favorite little Antichrist, and here, in these three short reviews, offer up some comments as to how they struck me. Consider this your one-stop shopping resource for all things Damien! And HAPPY HALLOWEEN to one and all!

The Omen: By the time I finally got around to watching it, I had a feeling that I might have been the only person in North America who had not seen the megahit The Omen. (Well, OK, maybe my Aunt Frici in the nursing home hadn't seen it yet either.) So permit me a moment or two while I "preach to the choir." Far from being just another Exorcist rip-off, The Omen is a... Read More

Devil’s Possessed: The Gilles man

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Devil’s Possessed directed by Leon Klimovsky

The real-life historical figure Gilles de Rais apparently inspired Paul Naschy — the so-called "Boris Karloff of Spain" — to create two of his greatest characters. de Rais, a 15th century French knight who fought alongside Joan of Arc and later became an aspiring alchemist, Satanist and serial child killer, first prompted Naschy to come up with the necromancer/Satanist character Alaric de Marnac for his 1973 classic Horror Rises From the Tomb. Though beheaded in 1454, de Marnac (played by Naschy himself) returned to cause major-league mishegas 520 years later in the film, and even came back for an encore in 1983's Panic Beats, an even superior outing.

In 1974, though, Naschy wrote the screenplay for a more realistic look at the Gilles de Rais legend, for that year's Devil's Possessed (aka The Devil's Possessed.) Here, ... Read More

Satan’s Wife: Dirty demon daughter

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Satan’s Wife directed by Pier Carpi

Those viewers who believe Patty McCormack's Rhoda Penmark character, in the 1956 classic The Bad Seed, to be the nastiest, most diabolical little girl ever shown on film might change their mind after seeing the 1979 Italian offering Satan's Wife. This latter picture was originally released under the title Un'ombra nell'ombra, or Ring of Darkness, but for once, I prefer the American appellation, as it is both more memorable and more suitably descriptive. An engrossing though hardly essential example of Eurohorror, the film should certainly prove of interest to the jaded fan of such fare who is looking for something different.

In the film, the viewer meets a very attractive, middle-aged mother named Carlotta Rhodes. Thirteen years earlier, Carlotta and several other women had danced and participated in a Satanic ritual ... and even, s... Read More

Graveyard of Horror: Plenty of atmosphere and weirdness

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Graveyard of Horror directed by Miguel Madrid

There is a world of difference in what Spanish filmmakers could get away with before the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1975, and what they could get away with after the subsequent introduction of the infamous "S" rating (denoting sex and violence) two years later. A pair of Spanish films that this viewer recently watched has served to demonstrate these differences very clearly. The 1977 film Satan's Blood is replete with nudity (both topless and full frontal), orgies, rape sequences, beheadings and other gory carnage (as I have written elsewhere, it is a truly wild and memorable film, and I do commend it to your attention). On the other hand, the 1971 Spanish offering Graveyard of Horror (which originally appeared under the title Necrophagus and has also been released with the appellation The Butcher of Binbrook) is a much mor... Read More

Tragic Ceremony: When Luciana met Camille

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Tragic Ceremony directed by Riccardo Freda

As I have said elsewhere, my abiding love for Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi has, cinematically, led me to some fairly unusual places. From my initial enthrallment with her Fiona Volpe character in 1965's Thunderball and on to such disparate fare as the British comedy Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959), the Japanese sci-fi shlock classic The Green Slime (1968), the Jess Franco WIP flick 99 Women (1969) and the blaxploitation actioner Black Gunn (1972), I have always found that a little Luciana makes any film go down easier. My most recent confirmation of this: the 1972 Italian supernatural cult item Tragic Ceremony (or, as it was called originally, Estralto Dagli Archivi Secreti Della Polizia Di Una Capitale Europa, or From the Secret Police Files of a European Capital), in which Paluzzi's role is ... Read More

Dead Eyes of London: My first krimi

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The Dead Eyes of London directed by Alfred Vohrer

As distinct a film genre as the American film noir of the 1940s and '50s and the Italian giallo of the 1970s, the German krimi pictures that flourished throughout the 1960s are almost exclusively based on the works of one remarkably prolific author: British novelist Edgar Wallace. The creator of around 175 (!) novels of mystery, crime, and detection, Wallace and his gigantic oeuvre supplied the German film industry of the late '50s to the early '70s with a superabundance of material to draw on. Though a huge fan of noir and giallo, this viewer had never seen a krimi film until very recently, and the film in question, 1961's The Dead Eyes of London, would seem to be a nice introduction to the genre. Based on Wallace's 1924 novel The Dark Eyes of London, the picture is supposedly a remake of a 1939 British filmiz... Read More

Suicide Club: Honshu: The dessart island

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Suicide Club directed by Shion Sono

There are two types of film review that I find it particularly difficult to write. The first is for a movie that I have fallen head over heels in love with, with fear that my gushing words of praise will do little to do the picture justice. And then there is the review for a film that, despite repeated watches, I just cannot wrap my poor aching cerebrum around; in short, one that I just cannot fully understand. Shion Sono's 2001 offering, Suicide Club, is, sadly, of that latter ilk. And that's a real shame, because for the film's first 2/3 or so, I was wholly involved, slack-jawed, and keeping up very nicely, indeed. And then come those final 30 minutes or so, which, judging from some other comments that I've read, have served as a stumbling block of sorts for many other viewers besides myself…

The film opens with as memorable and horrifying a spectacle as an... Read More

The Sinful Dwarf: Eurosleaziest

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The Sinful Dwarf directed by Vidal Raski

Film buffs who are curious as to what the whole Eurosleaze genre is all about could not find a better exemplar than The Sinful Dwarf. A 1973 picture from Denmark, of all places, the film conflates soft-core porn elements, deformed characters, scenes of ultracamp, and considerable doses of drugs and depravity into one of the sleaziest confections any viewer could possibly hope for.

In this truly one-of-a-kind outing, the viewer meets Lila Lash, a drunken, scar-faced ex-entertainer (played by Clara Keller), who, with her grotesque dwarf son, Olaf (the remarkable Torben Bille), runs a boardinghouse in what we must infer is London. The Lashes' main source of income, however, comes from somewhere else. Olaf, using windup toys as an enticement (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!), lures young women back to the house, where they are knocked out, locked in ... Read More

City Of The Living Dead: “Things that will shatter your imagination…”

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City Of The Living Dead directed by Lucio Fulci

The second installment of Lucio Fulci's so-called Zombie Quartet — coming after 1979's Zombie and preceding 1981's The Beyond and The House By the Cemetery — City of the Living Dead (1980) finds the Italian director near the very top of his form, confounding his audience with borderline senseless plots and repulsing viewers with an array of awesome gross-out effects.

In this one, a priest named Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself, for reasons never explained, in the cemetery of small-town Dunwich, Massachusetts (an homage here to the fictional town created by the great H.P. Lovecraft; the picture would more accurately be entitled Village of the Living Dead). T... Read More

The Beyond: All Hell busts loose

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The Beyond directed by Lucio Fulci

In the 1977 film The Sentinel, a character played by Cristina Raines moves into a Brooklyn Heights apartment building that, as it turns out, sits above the gateway to Hell. But as Italian director Lucio Fulci shows us in the third picture of his so-called Zombie Quartet, 1981's The Beyond (which picture followed 1979's Zombie and 1980's City of the Living Dead and preceded that same year's House By the Cemetery), there are actually SEVEN gateways on Earth that lead down to the infernal nether regions! Here, a NYC-based woman named Liza Merrill (beautiful English actress Catriona MacColl, who stars in the final three films of the Quartet) inherits a run-down inn called the Seven Doors Hotel, in Louisiana. After a series of gruesome accidents transpires around the property, Liza is warned by a mysterious blind girl, Emily (Cinzia Monr... Read More

Tokyo Gore Police: “Once upon a time there was an engineer…”

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Tokyo Gore Police directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura

Those viewers who thought the pyrotechnic gore FX of Yoshihiro Nishimura in the 2001 cult item Suicide Club to be a bit too over the top may want to hold on to their seats and wrap themselves in a full-length rubber coverall as Tokyo Gore Police begins to unspool. Living up to its title in spades, this 2008 offering does indeed give us a look at the cops in Japan's capital city in the near future, and ladles out more of the red stuff than The Wild Bunch, El Topo, The Evil Dead AND Dead Alive (four films once deemed the ne plus ultra of violence) put together ... and then some!

In this film, Nishimura has developed the "human blood fountain" to a fine art, a concept that I believe Akira Kurosawa initially used to great shock effect at the tail end of 1962's Sanjuro. Viewers with any sort of aver... Read More

Inferno: A “mater” of life and death

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Inferno directed by Dario Argento

In Dario Argento's 1977 masterpiece, Suspiria, the viewer learns that the ballet school known as the Tanz Akademie, in Freiburg, Germany, was the home to a coven of witches led by a being later revealed to be the Mater Suspiriorum, Latin for "Mother of Sighs." And three years later, in Argento's semisequel, Inferno, the viewer learns something even more disturbing. The Mother of Sighs, the oldest, was apparently only one of three sister entities; living somewhere in Rome, there exists the Mater Lacrimarum (Mother of Tears), the most beautiful of the three (we DO get a look at her in Inferno, I THINK, in the guise of a music student played by Ania Pieroni), while in New York City abides Mater Tenebrarum (the Mother of Darkness), the youngest and cruelest of the bunch. Together, the trio has caused woe to mankind for untold ages.

And when a young ... Read More

The Bloodstained Shadow: Eerie canal

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The Bloodstained Shadow directed by Antonio Bido

A practically goreless giallo coming fairly late in that genre's cycle, The Bloodstained Shadow (1978) yet manages to provide all the requisite thrills that Eurohorror fans might reasonably expect. This was the second picture from director Antonio Bido, whose initial giallo entry, The Cat With Jade Eyes (aka Watch Me When I Kill), released the year before, seems almost forgotten today. Drawing liberally from 15 years' worth of giallo tropes and conventions preceding it (Bido, on this Anchor Bay DVD, acknowledges his debt to Dario Argento during a modern-day, informative interview), the film remains a very worthwhile contribution to the genre.

In it, the viewer meets a pair of brothers, Stefano and Paolo D'Archangelo. When Stefano, a college professor (played by Lino Capolicchio, who some may recall as the leading man in P... Read More

Thoughtful Thursday: Thoughts about Blade Runner and similar films (giveaway!)

As I mentioned in my review of Blade Runner 2049, I thought the film was engrossing, atmospheric, and evocative, combining a deeply thoughtful and philosophical story with visual flare.

Whether you've had a chance to see it or not, here are some questions I'd like to discuss:

1) What are some other films (or books) that do a good job of questioning and/or blurring the concept of identity between humans and the Artificial Intelligence that we create?

2) Can you think of a film series that should have ended rather than adding one or more sequels? If there were multiple sequels, where should the series have ended and why?

3) What would a Blade Runner prequel look like/involve?

4) Where would a Blade Runner 3 go? (Let's try to avoid spoilers for Blade Runner 2049.)

One random commenter will ch... Read More

Blade Runner 2049: Visually stunning

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Blade Runner 2049 directed by Denis Villeneuve

Despite a very few missteps, Blade Runner 2049 is a true visual wonder and a rich, multi-layered narrative that feels languorous and evocative rather than slow, despite its nearly three-hour length.

The story picks up thirty years after the original (we get a bit of textual exposition to fill in the gap at the very start), with Ryan Gosling as K, a replicant serving the LAPD force who, in the opening scene, is charged with bringing in an allegedly dangerous replicant. Though he succeeds (painfully), the job also leads to a revelation that could topple the society, sending K on another seek-and-destroy mission that eventually leads him to Harrison Ford’s Deckard. Aligned against K is a new corporation, headed by Wallace (Jared Leto), a genius who helped feed the world and has been manufacturing more obedient replicants, though not fast enough for de... Read More

Crimson, the Color of Blood: Brain trust

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Crimson, the Color of Blood directed by Juan Fortuny

Fans of actor/screenwriter/director Paul Naschy who rent out the 1973 film Crimson, the Color of Blood hoping to get a good solid dose of "the Boris Karloff of Spain" may be a tad disappointed at how things turn out. By necessity, Naschy's role in this picture is severely limited, he doesn't make much of an appearance until the film is 2/3 done, and even in the final 1/3, his thesping abilities are only minimally utilized.

In this French/Spanish coproduction, Naschy plays a jewel thief named Surnett, who flees from the police, along with his gang, after a botched robbery attempt near the French city of Nancy. Surnett is shot in the head two minutes after the film begins, and spends the next hour of the picture in a virtual coma, while his gang scrambles to find a doctor to help him. Ultimately, it is decided that Surnett needs nothing less than... Read More

Exorcismo: For Naschy completists only

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Exorcismo directed by Juan Bosch

The notion has often struck me that one of the hallmarks of truly great screen stars is their ability to render even the most egregiously shlocky films highly watchable and interesting by dint of their very presence. This idea occurred to me again several months back, as I caught the 1957 film Voodoo Island for the first time; a picture that might be close to unwatchable, had it not starred the always fascinating Boris Karloff. And this thought struck me again the other night as I sat before the 1975 Spanish horror outing Exorcismo, which stars and was co-written by the so-called "Boris Karloff of Spain," Jacinto Molina, who is more popularly known as Paul Naschy. A slow-moving, talky affair, the film is most assuredly rescued by Naschy's always interesting presence.

Here, for a change,... Read More

The Hunchback of the Morgue: Hot rats

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The Hunchback of the Morgue directed by Javier Aguirre

From the jaunty circus music that plays during its opening credits to the closing shot of a steaming, bubbling pit of sulfuric acid, The Hunchback of the Morgue, a Spanish offering from 1973, literally busts a gut to please the jaded horror fan. Co-written and starring "The Boris Karloff of Spain," Paul Naschy, the film is a wildly over-the-top, cheesy affair that yet succeeds in its primary intentions: to stun and entertain the viewer.

In The Hunchback of the Morgue, Naschy plays the title character, Wolfgang Gotho, a hunchbacked janitor in the morgue of the Feldkirch Hospital, in what the viewer must infer is Germany, in modern times (although the film, with very minor revisions, could just as easily have been set 200 years ago). Shunned, reviled and even stoned by the town's populace, Gotho's only joy in life is bringing flowers t... Read More

Vengeance of the Zombies: Naschy X 3

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Vengeance of the Zombies directed by Leon Klimovsky

Psychotronic-film buffs who watch the Paul Naschy films Crimson (1973) and The Hanging Woman (also 1973) may come away feeling a bit shortchanged regarding the amount of screen time allotted to the so-called "Boris Karloff of Spain." In the first, Naschy plays a jewel thief who has been shot in the head following a botched robbery, and thus lays in a near coma for the film's first hour, while awaiting a brain transplant; in the second, he plays a necrophilic grave digger whose screen time is brief in the extreme. No such drawbacks for the eager Naschyphile crop up in Leon Klimovsky's Vengeance of the Zombies (1973 again ... quite a year for Paul!), fortunately; in fact, in this one, Spain's leading horror icon plays no less than three (3!) roles, and is marvelous in all of them.
... Read More

A Blade in the Dark: “I don’t want to hurt you … I only want your blood…”

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A Blade in the Dark directed by Lamberto Bava

Lamberto Bava's first film as a director, 1980's Macabre, was supposedly a bit too tame in the violence department to satisfy all the gorehounds out there, so in his next picture, 1983's A Blade in the Dark, the son of the legendary "Father of the Giallo," Mario Bava, created a bloodbath that might well have made papa proud. Filmed on the cheap in only three weeks at the country villa of producer Luciano Martino, the film is yet surprisingly effective and looks just fine.

The plot centers around a young composer named Bruno (appealingly portrayed by Andrea Occhipinti) and the four stunning-looking women in his life. Sandra, a film director (Anny Papa), has just hired him to compose the score for her latest horror film, and has ensconced him in a secluded country villa to get the job done. Bruno, as the viewer soon learns, in not untalented, a... Read More

Blood Sucking Freaks: Entertaining, but as sick as they come

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Blood Sucking Freaks directed by Joel M. Reed

A film that seemingly has no other goal than shocking and offending its audience, Blood Sucking Freaks (the lack of a hyphen is annoying) must be deemed a complete success. From first scene to last, this is a picture that gleefully parades its repugnant, gross-out set pieces and depraved characters for the viewer's questionable delectation. Initially appearing in 1976 under the title The Incredible Torture Show (a better, more apropos appellation, I feel; Blood Sucking Freaks suggests that a vampire type of story will be unreeling, which this film most certainly is not), it was later renamed by those wackos at Troma, which released the film on VHS and DVD with the memorable admonition "Warning: This film contains scenes of freaks sucking blood." Something of a legendary bad-taste cul... Read More

Beyond the Door: A mash-up of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist

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Beyond the Door directed by Ovidio Assonitis

“I am waiting for you inside the guts of this whore!”

A somewhat effective mash-up of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, Ovidio Assonitis' Beyond the Door (1974) yet has little of the class and sophistication of the first or terrifying shocks of the latter. Released a year after The Exorcist kicked box-office tuchus (garnering $89 million; the No. 1 highest earner of 1973, if the book Box Office Hits is to be trusted), the film suffers from an aura of déjà vu, but still has much to offer to the dedicated horror fan.

In it, Juliet Mills (daughter of John, older sister of Hayley, but perhaps best known to American viewers as Phoebe Figalilly from the early '70s sitcom Nanny and the Professor) plays Jessica Barrett, a wife and mother of two. She lives in Sa... Read More

Of Unknown Origin: Rat attack

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Of Unknown Origin directed by George P. Cosmatos

Speaking as a native New Yorker, I would hazard a guess that the two things my fellow residents here fear the most, when it comes to their apartment or dwelling place, are (a) bedbugs and (b) rodents. Those bloodsucking little insects were on the wane for many decades, but have unfortunately made a comeback in recent years, and while not disease carriers, are notoriously difficult and expensive to eliminate. As for the latter, well, the sight of a scurrying mouse in the house is surely enough to startle even the toughest of Big Apple dwellers. But the thought of a rat — the larger-size rodent that most New Yorkers only see on the subway tracks underground — getting INSIDE one's residence is one that is certain to engender nightmares. This fear was only made worse a little while ago, with the online emergence of a video showing how easily the whiskered horrors can clim... Read More