Film / TV

The Magicians: The TV Show (Giveaway!)

Syfy adapted Lev Grossman’s trilogy THE MAGICIANS into a series in 2015. The books got a lot of buzz as they followed a group of students at a college for magic and later into a magical land called Fillory. If the upstate New York college, Brakebills, was the anti-Hogwarts, Fillory was the anti-Narnia, and Grossman used the books to comment on the hero myth, entitlement, colonialism and the uses of power.

The show, which airs Wednesdays at 9:00 pm on Syfy, used the original stories as its starting point but has gone in a different direction… several different directions. It stars Jason Ralph as Quentin Coldwater, Read More

The Red Turtle: Like nothing you’ve seen before

The Red Turtle by Michael Dudok De Wit

Have you ever felt completely hypnotised by a movie? That was how I felt watching The Red Turtle, a story of — quite simply — survival and love. From the moment it started from until the second the credits rolled, I was fixated on the images unfolding in front of me: a man that washes up on a deserted island, his explorations of the beach and interior, his miraculous meeting with a mysterious woman, and the life they lead together, utterly cut off from all civilization (if you're wondering where a red turtle fits into all this, I won't spoil it for you).

Directed and co-written by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a collaboration between Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli, which brought us such films as The Artist (a black-and-white silent 2011 film) and Hayao Miyazaki's entire repertoire (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky Read More

Happy Death Day: Unexpectedly fun

Happy Death Day by Christopher Landon

Since Groundhog Day came out in 1993, the premise of a single person being forced to live the same day over and over again has been adapted for the science fiction (Edge of Tomorrow), thriller (Run Lola Run), and psychological horror (Salvage) genres, with even television episodes from Charmed, The X-Files and Xena: Warrior Princess getting in on the act.

Happy Death Day passes the idea over the slasher genre, in which Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) relives her birthday countless times — with it ending in her murder at the hands of a masked killer each time. The solution seems clear: she has to figure out who it is that keeps killing her if she's to move forward with her life.

One of the staple components of this type of story is that the main character learns something from their experience. In this case Tree is that typica... Read More

Coco: Another visual feast from Pixar

Coco by Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina

When you settle down to watch a Pixar movie, you know you're in for a treat. But as it happens, I finished Coco with rather mixed feelings. It ticked all the boxes of what we've come to expect from Pixar: a fascinating and inventive original premise, loveable characters, plenty of humour, at least one surprising plot-twist, and visuals that seem to glow with colour (especially in this film!) And yet Coco treads a lot of familiar ground when it's compared not only to other the rest of the Pixar repertoire, but a wider range of animated family films.

Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a twelve-year old boy with music in his soul. He's desperate to become a musician and to follow in the footsteps of his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (a famous actor/singer/song-writer) but due to a dark family secret, all music is strictly forbidden in his household.

Seeking inspiration from ... Read More

Star Wars Rebels: Season 1: A new chapter in the STAR WARS saga

Star Wars Rebels: Season 1 by Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg & Greg Weisman

This show has been on my radar for a while, and I'm glad I finally found the time to settle down and binge the first fifteen episodes of the first season. As a follow-up to The Clone Wars (2008 – 2014) and a bridge between the prequel and original trilogies, Star Wars Rebels also holds the distinction of being the first STAR WARS project to be released after Disney's procurement of the franchise.

Would it match the maturity and relative darkness of the preceding animated series? Or would it be "Disneyfied" for the kiddies? Turns out, the project was in good hands: producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg and Greg Weisman are no strangers to serialized animated shows, and although it takes a couple of episodes to really hit its stride, Star Wars Rebels can boast compelling characters, intriguing plot-lines, fun world-building and a ... Read More

Sandy’s 2018 Film Year in Review

Anyone who knows me well could tell you that I don’t see a lot of new films. As a matter of fact, of the 80 films that I saw in 2018 (a paltry total for me … maybe I’ve been reading too much?), only eight were new, and 72 were old. Thus, my annual Top 10 Best and 5 Worst lists are necessarily different than most. With me, any film that I saw for the first time in 2018 was eligible for either list. If the film made me laugh, or think, or tear up, or sit suspensefully on the edge of my seat, or amazed me with something that I had not seen before, it had a good shot at being considered. On the other hand, for me, boredom is the worst thing that any film can be guilty of; I don’t care if a film is cheaply made, but please do not torture me with tedium. Anyway, with no further ado, my Top 10 Best and 5 Worst Lists of 2018. The films are listed in the order that I saw them…


1) Crisis... Read More

Nightflyers: Mystery and horror aboard a haunted spaceship

Reposting to include Marion's review of the new SYFY channel adaptation of Nightflyers. You can find it below our reviews of the novella.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin

Nightflyers was first published in 1980, won the Locus Award for best novella, and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It was made into an unsuccessful film in 1987. It’s recently been on people’s radars due to the upcoming SYFY series based on the novella. You can purchase it in several new (2018) formats including an illustrated edition, a story collection, and an audio version. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by a... Read More

Some Must Watch: Book vs. film

Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White

There is a word that film buffs like to use to describe a type of motion picture that, because of its tautness and high suspense quotient, almost seems as if it had been directed by the so-called “Master of Suspense” himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The word, naturally enough, is “Hitchcockian,” a term that might be fairly applied to such wonderful entertainments as Gaslight (both the 1940 and ’44 versions), Charade, The Prize and Arabesque. But of all the pictures that have been honored with the adjective “Hitchcockian” over the years, none, it seems to me, is more deserving than the 1946 RKO film The Spiral Staircase, and indeed, after 40 years’ worth of repeated watches, I have come to deem the picture the greatest horror outing of the 1940s … at least, that wasn’t a product of Universal Studios or producer Val Lewton.

Featuring impec... Read More

Psycho: The modern horror era begins

Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock

It is not every filmmaker who can manage the difficult trick of coming up with four consecutive masterpieces, but that is just what British director Alfred Hitchcock was able to do as the late 1950s segued into the '60s. His 1958 offering, Vertigo, took time to find its audience but today is recognized by the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine as the single greatest motion picture ever made; 1959's North by Northwest is surely one of the all-time great entertainments; 1960's Psycho practically jump-started the modern-day horror industry all on its own, and remains the director's most well-known film; and 1963's The Birds is still a baby-boomer favorite to this day.

But of those four films, all of which reside on my personal Top 100 Favorite Films list, it is the third, Psycho, that remains my favorite after all these years, and indeed, I person... Read More

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer: Pretty potent stuff

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer directed by John McNaughton

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who confessed to the slayings of over 600 people but who was ultimately convicted in the homicide of a "mere" 11, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer changes some of the established facts around, yet remains a very strong experience for the viewer. As revealed on a certain Wiki site, the film was shot in just four weeks in 1986, at a cost of around $110,000, but was not released until four years later. Despite its great reputation, it is a film that I had long put off watching, having a suspicion that it would be a rather unpleasant experience for me overall. But lately, I have been exposing myself to a bunch of previously dreaded films (such as Blood Sucking Freaks and 1978's Read More

The Happening: Respectful awe

The Happening directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Following the inanity of the borderline train wreck that was 2006's Lady in the Water, writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan rebounded in a very big way with his next film, 2008's The Happening. His contribution to the type of eco-horror film that was all the rage in the 1960s and '70s — I’m thinking of such films as 1963's The Birds, 1972's Frogs, 1977's Kingdom of the Spiders and 1978's The Swarm ... not to mention the little-seen 1976 Spanish classic Who Can Kill a Child? — the film seems to have divided his fan base and resulted in a bona fide critical flop of sorts. Indeed, the woman who I sit next to at work, a big admirer of film auteur Shyamalan, hated the film, although she professes a love for Lady in the Water, a picture that I found to be ... Read More

Brides of Dracula: Even without Lee, a very fine Hammer offering

Brides of Dracula directed by Terence Fisher

The title is something of a misnomer. As the story goes, following the worldwide success of Hammer Studios' The Horror of Dracula in 1958, star Christopher Lee decided that he did not wish to participate in any possible sequel, fearing that he might be later typecast in the vampiric role. Thus, despite the sequel's title, Brides of Dracula not only does not feature Lee's participation at all, but the world's most famous neck nosher is nowhere to be found. Rather, what the viewer gets here is another Transylvanian vampire, an acolyte of Dracula's dark religion, if you will. But the results, even without Lee, are still most impressive, and even though Lee would later return in the following decades to appear in no fewer than six Dracula films for Hammer (Dracula, Prince of Darkness in '66; Dracula Has Risen From the Grave in '68; Taste the Blood of Dracula and Sc... Read More

Split: A dude with TOO much personality

Split directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Over the years, there have been any number of films that have dealt with lead characters who suffer with what the layman might term "split personality." Putting aside all the many iterations of the Jekyll & Hyde story, in 1957, audiences were given both Lizzie, in which Eleanor Parker played a woman with three distinct personalities, and, five months later, the more well-known The Three Faces of Eve, in which Joanne Woodward played a woman with the exact same predicament. In 1960, theatergoers were shocked out of their showers via their introduction to Tony Perkins' Norman Bates, a young man who was also his own mother, in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. The situation was played for laughs in 1963's The Nutty Professor, with Jerry Lewis portraying the hapless Prof. Julius Kelp AND his alter ego, the Dean Martin-like Buddy Love. But you would have to take all the preceding alter egos... Read More

The Mysterious Doctor: Eleanor shines in her second film

The Mysterious Doctor directed by Benjamin Stoloff

A seeming meld of fog-shrouded Universal horror and the rah-rah wartime propaganda films that were so prevalent during the era, the Warner Brothers offering The Mysterious Doctor turns out to be a minor concoction that should just manage to please modern audiences. Released in March 1943, during the darkest days of World War II, the picture provides some chilling escapism while at the same time inspiring its target audience to greater productivity in the war effort. For today's viewer, the film works as an efficient little chiller and as a showcase for its ingénue female star, Eleanor Parker, who here evinces great charm and ability (and beauty, natch) in this, her second role on screen.

The film manages to engender a chilling mood from its very opening moments, in which the viewer beholds a very tall AND HEADLESS personage stalking through a mist-enveloped woodland. We soon meet the mys... Read More

From Hell It Came: Kimo therapy

From Hell It Came directed by Dan Milner

Back in the 1960s, when I was just a young lad and when there were only three major television stations to contend with, The New York Times used to make pithy commentaries, in their TV section, regarding films that were to be aired that day. I have never forgotten the terse words that the paper issued for the 1957 cult item From Hell It Came. In one of the most succinct pans ever written, the editors simply wrote: "Back send it." Well, I have waited years to find out if this hilarious put-down was justified or not, and now that I have finally succeeded in catching up with this one-of-a-kind cult item, have to say that I feel the Times people may have been a bit too harsh in their assessment. Sure, the film is campy, and of course, its central conceit is patently ridiculous, but does the film give the viewer that one necessary ingredient — namely, fun — that all good movies should provide? Oh... Read More

The Dunwich Horror: A pleasing Lovecraftian adaptation from AIP

The Dunwich Horror directed by Daniel Haller

Having enjoyed great success with a string of some seven pictures based on the works of the writer who has been called the greatest horror author of the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe, American International Pictures (AIP) soon turned its attention to the horror author who has been called the greatest of the 20th, the so-called "Sage of Providence," Howard Phillips Lovecraft. For their first Lovecraft attempt, the studio came out with the Boris Karloff outing Die, Monster, Die, loosely based on the author's 1927 story "The Color Out of Space." And five years later, the film in question, The Dunwich Horror, was released, in January 1970 (just weeks before the studio came out with the Peter Cushing/Vincent Price/Christopher Lee outing Scream and Scream... Read More

Creature from the Haunted Sea: For Corman completists only?

Creature from the Haunted Sea directed by Roger Corman

On the front cover of Ed Naha's indispensable book The Films of Roger Corman there is a subtitle that reads "Brilliance on a Budget," and a look at Corman's working schedule and method of production will surely bear out that statement. Take, for example, the background for his 1961 film Creature from the Haunted Sea. As the story goes, Corman and crew were in Puerto Rico in 1959, where Corman was executive producing the film The Battle of Blood Island at the same time as he was directing his own film The Last Woman on Earth. Realizing that if he had another week on the island he could just manage to come up with still ANOTHER picture, Corman instructed his oft-time screenwriter Charles Griffith (who had previously worked on no fewer than seven Corman films, including such immortal classics as It Conquered the World, Not of This Earth, Read More

The Night Visitor: Terror… to the max

The Night Visitor directed by László Benedek

In 1968, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman released what might be arguably deemed his closest attempt to create an outright horror film, Hour of the Wolf, starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullman. The three would go on to work together several more times in the coming years, and although the following pictures that they made together (such as Shame and The Passion of Anna) WERE fairly emotionally devastating, none could be termed outright horror.

Viewers desirous to see Max and Liv together in another film that is indisputably in the horror domain, however, may be confidently steered to a picture that they made together in the early '70s, entitled The Night Visitor. Released in February '71, this was a Swedish production (its Swedish title is Papegojan), filmed in English by Hungarian director László Benedek (of The Wild One fame) and co-starring Brit... Read More

Invisible Invaders: Attack of the invisible no-see-ums

Invisible Invaders directed by Edward L. Cahn

Offhand, I can think of few actors (other than perhaps Richard Denning) who have gone up against so many 1950s sci-fi horrors and monstrosities as Chicago-born John Agar. From 1955 - '58 alone, the former husband of Shirley Temple battled The Creature in Revenge of the Creature, a giant arachnid in Tarantula, a lost subterranean race in The Mole Men, a floating alien cerebrum in The Brain From Planet Arous, and a mad scientist in Attack of the Puppet People, all of which I had hugely enjoyed. There WAS one film of Agar's from the late '50s that I had never seen, though, to complete this list of sci-fi menaces, and that film is Invisible Invaders. Fortunately, I have at long last caught up with this one, and can report that it is yet another fun (although undeniably shlocky) outing to add to Agar's roster. The film was released in May 1959 and thus has bee... Read More

The Swarm: The worst film ever made? Don’t bee-lieve it!

The Swarm directed by Irwin Allen

Immediately before the release of his $21 million disaster epic The Swarm in July '78, producer/director Irwin Allen boasted to the press that he thought the film would be "the most terrifying movie ever made." And the so-called "Master of Disaster" had good reason to feel confident; his previous films, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, had been monster hits, performing remarkably well at the box office. But The Swarm, which dealt with an attack of African killer bees in the American Southwest, failed to live up to expectations, and indeed brought in a mere $7 million in box office returns.

The reviews were scathing, with The New York Times calling the film "the surprise comedy hit of the season" and London's Sunday Times deeming it "simply the worst film ever made." Time Out has gone on to call it a "risibly inadequate disaster... Read More

The Bat: When Vinny met Agnes

The Bat directed by Crane Wilbur

Although Vincent Price had appeared in a number of scary films before the late 1950s, it wasn't until 1958 and '59 that the beloved actor really began to concentrate his efforts in the fright field and thus become one of the true titans in the arena of horror. During those two years, Price starred in The Fly, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler and The Bat, thus getting the ball rolling for one legendary horror career. This viewer, up until recently, had long enjoyed every one of those films except for The Bat, which had somehow escaped me. Thus, how pleased I was to discover that this film fits in very nicely with those other great three!

The Bat was based on a 1908 novel by mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart entitled The Circular Staircase, which I had enjoyed; Rinehart and playwright Avery Hopwood had later turned this book... Read More

What’s the Matter With Helen?: A significant contribution to the hagsploitation genre

What’s the Matter With Helen? directed by Curtis Harrington

One of the more curious subcategories of the horror field, the genre known as hagsploitation (sometimes called psycho-biddy films, Grande Dame Guignol and, as my buddy Rob calls it, aging-gargoyle movies) got its jump start with the release of the seminal What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, in 1962. After the success of that truly remarkable film, the crone gates were opened, and it was quickly followed by others, in which formerly glamorous actresses, now advanced in years, got to play aging biddies on the verge of madness. Such films as Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964, with Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Agnes Moorehead), Strait-Jacket (also '64, with Crawford again) and What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice ('69, with Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon) proved marvelous entertainments, and thus, as the '70s began, the ha... Read More

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms: One of my all-time faves

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms directed by Eugène Lourié

As I have mentioned elsewhere, it is a keynote of all the films that appear on my personal Top 100 Films list that they are capable of bearing up under repeated viewings with undiminished enjoyment. And indeed, of those 100 films, many of them have been seen by yours truly dozens of times, if not more, with just as much pleasure as when I saw each picture for the very first time. But of all those films, the one that I have probably sat down with the most is The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

A bit of personal history here: When I was a kid, growing up in 1960s NYC, we only had perhaps a half dozen television stations to choose from. There were the big three, of course — CBS, NBC and ABC — in addition to two or three local stations, one of which was WOR, channel 9. As memory serves, WOR only had a single program that it showed repeatedly, all week long; a little something called Read More

The Snow Devils: Asiago, fontina or robiola

The Snow Devils directed by Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony Dawson)

During the 1960s, the Italians proceeded to make impressive strides in their historic cinematic output. The old-master auteurs such as Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Visconti and Pasolini continued to put out quality product (to put it mildly, in the case of the first two), while up-and-comers such as Mario Bava and Sergio Leone helped to jump-start the nascent genres of Italian Gothic horror, the giallo film, and the so-called "spaghetti Western." The Italian comedies continued to flourish, as did the country's truly one-of-a-kind "sword and sandal" films. But there was one area in which the Italians, try as they might, just couldn't seem to make much of an impressive dent, it seems to me, and that was in the arena of sci-fi. Case in point: the 1967 film The Snow Devils.

Despite its ambitious story line, a top-tier actor in front of the camera and a respected director in c... Read More

Ben: Rattus rattus flambé

Ben directed by Phil Karlson

In light of the fact that the 1971 film Willard was such a box office smash, bringing in almost $10 million (pretty big money in those days), I suppose it was practically inevitable that a sequel was soon put into production. And sure enough, in June '72, almost a year to the day after Willard had had its premiere, that sequel, Ben, did indeed arrive. Featuring all new characters, with the exception of its titular rodent star, the film yet picks up mere moments after the conclusion of the first, and indeed, the sequel's opening credits are scrawled over the final moments of that first film, to remind viewers of where things had left off.

In that first film's conclusion, young oddball Willard Stiles (well played by Bruce Davison), after having killed his hateful boss with the assistance of his well-trained rat army, led by the alm... Read More